As the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection painstakingly unfurls evidence about how former President Donald Trump and his associates used bogus election fraud claims to set the stage for the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Trumpian propaganda machine continues pumping out new bogus claims to defend and promote his Big Lie.
Last week, an outlet called The Arizona Sun Times — a member site of Star News Digital Media — published an article falsely claiming that Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, mishandled as many as 20,000 ballots during the 2020 election. (Star News Digital Media is a growing network of right-wing local “news” outlets run by partisan activists with ties to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.)
Like many other states, Arizona — and Maricopa County in particular — was flooded with baseless allegations of voter fraud after the state flipped to President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Although Maricopa County’s election results have been audited multiple times by legitimate entities, the county was also the subject of a partisan “audit” led by a now-defunct startup with ties to figures associated with the QAnon conspiracy movement. The catastrophic “audit” has since faced bipartisan rebuke from Arizona elected officials.
Based on the statements of a county communications official in an email exchange with the Sun Times, the June 11 article falsely claimed the Maricopa County recorder’s office accepted and tabulated ballots before sending them to a third party to verify ballot signatures. The article also claimed that the public information officer, who is ghoulishly featured in the article’s header image, may have “unwittingly admitted” that the county had broken several state election laws.
However, as noted by VoteBeat reporter Jen Fifield, the story appears to be a willful misunderstanding of how ballots are handled during elections. While the article claims that votes were tabulated before they were verified by a third party, the county spokesperson had merely noted that the ballots were scanned and then sent to the third party for verification. Then, after verification, the ballots would’ve been opened and tallied.
I have more anger about this than about any of the fake new stories about our 2020 election and that's saying a lot. Because
1. Scanning early ballots (not late) when they are received is normal and not a crime... pic.twitter.com/YWxb9lBMfT
— Jen Fifield (@JenAFifield) June 13, 2022
“Due to the large volumes of early ballots received Election Day, we are scanning in early ballots received by 7 p.m. on Election Day well into the next morning, which is why a transfer of custody document would have a date after Election Day,” the Sun Times piece quoted the county official as saying.
The fact that the Sun Times story was false didn’t deter prominent advocates of the Big Lie from sharing the bogus story online. Far-right filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza tweeted the story out to his 2 million followers. The tweet earned over 11,000 likes and 5,000 retweets. Some of those retweets were by MAGA influencers like former Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka.
The story was also shared by Arizona GOP Chairperson Kelli Ward, who is quoted in the story as saying of the county election officials, “It looks like they’ve got something to hide.” Ward — who has associated with a number of racists and conspiracy theorists — is one of the GOP officials currently fighting the January 6 committee’s subpoena to testify about her role in trying to subvert the 2020 election results — an effort she’s clearly still involved in.
As the 2022 midterm elections nears, expect more bogus scoops like this from Star News. Ahead of the 2020 election, Trump loyalist John Fredericks launched The Virginia Star, which spread voter fraud conspiracy theories, and used the site to fundraise for the Trump campaign. Then, after the election, Fredericks similarly founded Georgia Star News, which became a waystation promoting voter fraud claims and political hits. The network has added at least 9 more sites in battleground states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida since the last election.