CLAIM: Shredded ballots found in a Maricopa County dumpster ahead of a Senate audit appear to be votes from the 2020 election.

THE FACTS: Social media users are falsely suggesting ballots that Arizona state senators asked to audit were shredded in a Maricopa County Elections Department dumpster. The claim follows a legal battle between the state’s Republican-controlled Senate and the Republican-dominated Maricopa County board of supervisors over whether the Senate could access the county’s 2.1 million ballots and election equipment to directly audit the Nov. 3 election results. Last month, a judge ruled the Senate’s subpoena to access the ballots was valid. After winning the ruling, lawyers for the Senate asked that the ballots remain in the county’s possession since the Senate did not have a space for them. On March 6, Staci Burk, an Arizona woman who had previously filed an unsuccessful legal challenge to the election, posted photos of a man searching through a dumpster and a yellow plastic bag stuffed with shredded paper inside the dumpster. She also posted photos that showed the materials at a residence, and shredded papers with candidate names from the 2020 election. “Ballots shredded and in dumpsters behind the Maricopa County Ballot tabulation center. Physical evidence collected,” Burk posted on Facebook. Burk did not return a request for comment. The conservative site Gateway Pundit picked up the claim, suggesting that someone had attempted to shred ballots before the Senate could audit them. “BALLOTS IN ARIZONA COUNTY FOUND SHREDDED IN DUMPSTER, DAYS BEFORE SENATE AUDIT,” said one popular Facebook post. But county election officials say ballots from the election are securely preserved. Megan Gilbertson, the communications director for Maricopa County Elections Department, told The Associated Press that her office readied 2.1 million ballots to transfer to Senate custody and those ballots are still sealed and stored in the county’s vault that is monitored by a surveillance camera. “Maricopa County has not, and would never destroy voted ballots until legally authorized to do so after the 24-month retention period,” Gilbertson told the AP in a statement. “None of the ballots or other General election materials from the vault were in the garbage, and as a matter of business, the county can and does throw out trash.” Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, told the AP in a statement: “I can say with 100% certainty that the 2.1 million legally voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in the Elections Department vault, under 24/7 surveillance.” Richer said his office shreds a variety of non-classified documents, as well as “deceased voter ballots since they could never be legally tabulated.” Those ballots were turned in by the relatives of people who died and were shredded if they were not signed before the voter's death. Gilbertson confirmed to the AP that the Election Department preserves all ballots that were part of the official canvass, including those that were ultimately disqualified.

— Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix contributed this report.