Maricopa County: Dumpster divers didn’t find voted 2020 ballots

By: - March 9, 2021 8:37 am

An unidentified man climbs around in a trash bin behind Maricopa County’s election center. He is one of several #StopTheSteal activists who claim they found a bag of shredded 2020 ballots, pictured at right. A spokeswoman for the county says the ballots cast in November are safely stored in a vault and that it is unclear what the that the pro-Trump activists found. She also said the Dumpster divers attempted to break into the county’s facility. Photo credit: Staci Burk | Facebook

Maricopa County election officials say a bagful of shredded ballots that “stop the steal” activists claim to have found in a trash can at the elections department weren’t cast in the 2020 election.

Staci Burk, a Pinal County woman who filed a failed lawsuit challenging the general election results last year, alleges that she and others found a bag filled with shredded ballots from the November election in a Dumpster outside a loading dock at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center south of downtown Phoenix.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Burk described it as “physical evidence collected.” A website she linked to that touts numerous conspiracy theories about the election called it “evidence of shredding of ballots.”

But Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the ballots weren’t cast in the 2020 general election. State law requires counties to keep all ballots for 24 months after an election is canvassed.

Gilbertson noted that the county sends out sample ballots, which are printed on the same paper as the ballots used in the election, and that such ballots are also available online. And there are many voters who received ballots in the mail but didn’t return them, she said. 

“The ballot shown in the picture could be any one of those things. What it is not is an official voted ballot from the November General Election. The 2.1 million voted ballots from the November General Election are safe and accounted for in a vault, under 24/7 surveillance,” Gilbertson said.

Kelly Townsend facebookSen. Kelly Townsend, a Mesa Republican, posted on Facebook that Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told her that the elections department doesn’t shred ballots.

Burk also falsely claimed that photos and videos she posted of the loading dock at MCTEC showed pallets of ballots from the 2020 election, Gilbertson said. Those pallets are actually boxes of blank voter registration forms.

Burk posted photos of the shredded ballots on her Facebook page, along with photos of a yellow bag in the trash bin at MCTEC, which an unnamed man climbed into the Dumpster to retrieve. Other photos show the man poring over long strips of shredded ballot in a kitchen.

Burk wrote on Facebook that they went to three other locations. She wouldn’t say how many bags of shredded ballots were allegedly found, nor would she permit the Arizona Mirror to inspect them.

The strips of ballot appear to be from the 2020 general election and included partial candidate names from the U.S. Senate, Maricopa County recorder, Arizona Supreme Court, 8th Congressional District, Corporation Commission and Legislative District 1 races. Some strips show full or partial bubbles filled in. The allegations were reported by the right-wing website Gateway Pundit. 

Burk has not yet filed a complaint regarding the ballots with any law enforcement agencies. She told the Mirror that she’s exchanged emails with the Attorney General’s Office regarding shredded ballots, but hasn’t spoken with anyone at the office about it or filed any official complaint. 

Senate President Karen Fann wrote on Twitter on Sunday that she’d contacted the Attorney General’s Office and asked for an investigation into the claims.

That Burk and her fellow activists took the ballots from MCTEC, brought it to a private residence and sorted through the shredded paper raises questions about contamination of evidence, were there to be an investigation. But Burk said that she took video showing that it came from the county elections department and insisted that there were no problems with the chain of custody. 

Burk said she went to MCTEC on both Friday and Saturday. After her visit to the building on Friday, which she said was to deliver a copy of her appeal to the Supreme Court, she posted photos on Facebook, along with the comment, “Notice the dumpsters.” She said she didn’t find the ballots until Saturday, but posted about them on Facebook the day before, “Because that’s when someone pointed it out and I realized that was a really good point.”

The piles of shredded paper also include green strips of paper that appear to be shredded pieces of the envelopes that voters use to mail their ballots. Those envelopes are separated by election officials before the ballots they contain are counted, and once the election is over they are both stored in the elections department’s vault, though on separate pallets. 

Gilberston said Burk and her compatriots were not only Dumpster diving on county property, but that security footage shows them attempting to break into the building using a board they found in the trash bin. Gilbertson said they attempted to break into the building on Saturday, the day they allegedly found the shredded ballots.

“Maricopa County plans to follow up with law enforcement about these activities,” she said.

Burk denied attempting to break into the building.

Burk’s allegations come as the state Senate prepares to audit 2.1 million ballots, tabulation machines and other equipment and materials from the 2020 general election in Maricopa County. Despite issuing subpoenas for the materials in December, the Senate has not chosen an auditor and hasn’t found a place to store the ballots since a judge upheld its subpoenas in late February.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”