Maricopa County and Arizona Sec. of State Censored 2020 Election Audit Hearing, Elected Officials

by Natalia Mittelstadt


The Arizona secretary of state’s office and Maricopa County worked together to censor information about the state’s 2020 election audit of the county and reported elected officials’ posts to social media companies.

Maricopa County and the Arizona secretary of state’s office worked together with third parties to censor social media content that they believed was misinformation regarding the 2020 election audit of Maricopa County and election information posted by elected officials, according to public records obtained from both Maricopa County and the Arizona secretary of state by The Gavel Project.

On September 24, 2021, the Republican-controlled Arizona state Senate released the findings of its months-long audit of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County. The audit found that the claim that President Joe Biden won Arizona was accurate, but it also included tens of thousands of ballots that were suspect and require more investigation.

The more than 50,000 ballots flagged by auditors for more investigation involved concerns ranging from people voting from addresses from which they had already moved to residents voting twice. The total in question was nearly five times the 10,400 vote margin that separated the two presidential candidates, giving Donald Trump’s troops fresh reason to call for more scrutiny.

A week ahead of the release of the results from the 2020 election audit of Maricopa County, Facebook reached out to the office of then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) regarding “any top-of-mind concerns or potential needs ahead of the elections audit publication.”

The social media company’s liaison said they would “continue to have dedicated teams monitoring our platforms and the situation on the ground” and that they were coordinating “closely with Maricopa County and will continue to have open channels of communication with them during this time.”

The secretary of state’s office responded, writing, “The major top of mind concern we have moving into Friday is the streaming of misinformation that may come from the Senate hearing that afternoon. And obviously the potential for additional threats and harassment. I have been in touch with Maricopa as well, they said they expressed some similar concerns, and that they have already been in touch with you.”

Both Maricopa County and the secretary of state’s office worked with social media companies to monitor election information regarding the 2022 midterms.

In August 2022, Maricopa County and the Arizona secretary of state’s office discussed coordinating a meeting with Facebook and Twitter to “chat with them about how the primary went, and to hear from them their plans for the General,” the assistant secretary of state wrote.

“Then we are going to invite them to come to a Comms Talk in September so they can share with the counties their elections plans,” the assistant secretary of state added.

Earlier that month, the secretary of state’s office reportedtweet posted by the Arizona GOP as “disinformation.” The tweet reads, “Pinal County shifting some blame for running out of ballots to Secretary of State @KatieHobbs‘ office. Official says formulas for how many ballots to order came from Hobbs’ office. Hobbs is failing at her current job…How can she ask anyone to give her a promotion to #AZGOV?”

The office contacted the Center for Internet Security about the tweet, which responded that the report had been forwarded to Twitter. The tweet is still up on Twitter.

The secretary of state’s office and the county also reported posts by elected officials to social media companies.

In a November 2020 email to Facebook, the secretary of state’s office reported a post by then-senator-elect Kelly Townsend (R), writing that it “perpetuates a number of disproved/debunked theories about the Arizona election. It is content that includes misrepresentation of who can vote, qualifications for voting, whether a vote will be counted, and what information and/or materials must be provided in order to vote.”

The Facebook post, which called “for a recount and forensic audit of the 2020 General election” after listing alleged issues with the election, is still up on Townsend’s account with a fact check attached.

Maricopa County discussed keeping elected officials in check over their social media content.

After an email discussion regarding the county’s response to a reporter, the county’s communications director wrote in an email to other county employees on April 11, 2022, “The bigger discussion on the county/board side, in my opinion, is whether to call out/hold accountable the elected officials who are participating in this misinformation.”

The county also monitored YouTube videos that state Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R) appeared in.

“Senator Borelli [sic] appeared in a video and repeated the statement audit supporters are making about the routers,” a county communications officer wrote in an email on May 11, 2021. “He essentially repeated the router misinformation and alleged that there is something ‘the Board of Supervisors has something to hide’.”

The communications officer also wrote in a July 16, 2021, email that Borrelli “claimed there is an active conspiracy between the Secretary of State and the Board of Supervisors to ‘suppress’ the work of the audit.”

A Maricopa County communications director also expressed disappointment at how a news outlet was covering information about the 2020 election and audit.

On Dec. 21, 2021, the Maricopa County communications director wrote to the executive director of news at Arizona’s Family, “We at Maricopa County are very disappointed in the recent interview with Senate President Karen Fann and Senator Rick Gray.”

“They were permitted to continue spreading misinformation about the 2020 General Election unchecked during the published interview and there was no apparent fact checking in the online story despite our public website dedicated to the truth about election operations at JustTheFacts. Vote,” the county continued.

“Maricopa County demands AZ Family uses the attached statement to publish clarifying stories on television during the same shows the interview originally aired. The web story must also be updated to reflect the content of this statement and the fact AZ Family did not research the original story. We expect you to provide an interview opportunity of similar length and promotion after the County issues its official response to the Cyber Ninjas’ report,” Maricopa County added.

Arizona’s Family responded by saying they added Maricopa County’s “bullet points from your statement to the article” and offered the county “the same interview opportunity.”

The Maricopa County Elections, Board of Supervisors, and the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office told Just the News in a statement on Tuesday, “The county does not ‘censor’ items posted on social media. We have a responsibility to ensure accurate information is available to voters. We would never dispute that people have a right to freedom of speech. When freedom of speech is endangering staff or providing wholly inaccurate information to the public, the county will address the inaccuracies by reaching out to those who post the misinformation, and when they are unwilling to make corrections, work with media outlets to ensure correct information is provided to the community at large.”

“You should know that an article referenced in one of the email chains you attached contained a photo and the name of an employee that resulted in a threat to her around the time the story was posted. I am sure you can understand why this would concern the county.”

The secretary of state’s office and the governor’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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Natalia Mittelstadt is a reporter at Just the News.



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