Far-right media voices such as former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon and the figures at One America News are amplifying a claim that hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes were cast in Arizona. But as it turns out, the Republican activists making this claim surveyed only a few thousand people — and the conclusions they’ve drawn from those individual contacts are already being dissected and debunked.
Bannon has promoted questionable data claims in the past, as part of his push for “forensic audits” of the ballots cast in all 50 states, which he and others on his show maintain could result in the decertification of the 2020 election and prove that former President Donald Trump actually won. (President Joe Biden won the election with around 81 million votes nationwide, against around 74 million for Trump, and a 306-232 margin in the Electoral College.)
Bannon has also championed the cause of the Arizona Senate’s ongoing audit in the state’s largest county, as has a reporter for right-wing media outlet One America News, with the network pushing to spread the effort to more states. One OAN host has been even more ambitious than Bannon — predicting that the audits would lead not just to rejection of the 2020 election, but also to mass executions.
Audit organizers have since asked for permission to canvass voters door to door — which the Department of Justice has warned could violate laws against voter intimidation. But the canvassing effort behind the claims of fraudulent votes is not actually part of the official Arizona audit. Instead, Republican activist Liz Harris and a group of her compatriots have gone door-to-door as private citizens, personally canvassing residents to ask whether they voted in the 2020 election. (Harris has also denied previous reports that canvassers had impersonated real election officials.)
Curiously, though, during Harris’ appearances on OAN to hype her supposed findings, OAN personality Christina Bobb introduced Harris as having “led the canvassing effort here in Arizona for the Arizona 2020 election audit.” In a separate segment, Bobb acknowledged the distinction that Harris’ activities were supposedly separate from the state senate’s official audit — and that things had been done in this manner because of a need to avoid litigation.
How a QAnon-linked conspiracy theorist claims to have “extrapolated” hundreds of thousands of votes — and hopes to spread the effort to other states
Harris is a real estate agent and unsuccessful candidate in 2020 for the Arizona legislature who also made previous claims of vast election fraud, such as saying that over 2,000 people had registered to vote from the same street. However, USA Today in January deemed that claim false, noting that the alleged address was not listed anywhere. (As Media Matters has previously documented, Harris also has a history of promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory and has connections to key players within the Arizona audit.)
Appearing Wednesday on Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic, Harris boasted that “the number of people that we interviewed was equivalent to the size of a city — of an average American city. It was actually larger than the average American city.”
Harris made a number of claims about canvassed voters, saying they included people who said they had voted but were not recorded as having actually cast a ballot, as well as saying other ballots were sent to addresses that turned out to be vacant. “And when we extrapolate it, it is the equivalent of three Sun Devil stadiums,” she said referring to the venue of the Arizona State University football team.
But as she revealed in the same interview, Harris said her group knocked on 11,708 doors and got responses from 4,570 out of that. Thus, she is “extrapolating” from the answers to her small survey in order to claim that there must also be hundreds of thousands of fraudulent or missing votes statewide. Her questionnaires also fail against the obvious objection that a significant number of people will tell a stranger that they voted in an election when they really did not.
Later in the interview, Bannon asked Harris how people “not just simply in Arizona, but throughout the country, how do they get engaged here, how do they get involved?” Harris gave her website address and then held up an image of a series of falling dominoes, with the first labeled “Arizona.”
“I think a lot of people know me for this great meme, and it’s ‘May Arizona be the first domino to fall,’” Harris said. “And I think we’ve done it.”
“Yes. I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Bannon replied.
Another frequent Bannon guest, election conspiracy theorist Seth Keshel, further promoted canvassing and audits in other states, saying: “There are many methods of which these elections can be validated — or invalidated.”
Bannon then questioned why we’re dealing with “this radical agenda” — referring to Democratic policies being passed by majorities in Congress — when the 2020 Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, and Michigan could also be “up in question.” Just to be clear, the Senate races that Bannon named were won by Democrats with margins ranging from about 55,000 votes to over 90,000 votes.
The right declares a “Major Fraud!”
The flimsiness of Harris’ methodology, however, has not harmed this story from spreading through right-wing echo chambers.
Right-wing site The Gateway Pundit, for example, led with the grandiose cover image from Harris’ group that purported to show hundreds of thousands of lost or fraudulent votes, with writer Joe Hoft declaring: “Everyone who knew this election was stolen can feel validated today. These are the results of just one county in Arizona.” Anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller also proclaimed: “For all of those who knew this election was stolen, those who were ridiculed or labeled conspiracy theorists – You have been vindicated.”
Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington also tweeted: “Grassroots canvass identifies 299,493 lost, ghost, and inaccurate votes -- Major Fraud!” along with an embedded video from Bannon’s show.
The story has also been promoted by far-right Arizona politicians. State Sen. Wendy Rogers posted on her Twitter account claims of nearly 300,000 faulty votes in the state, “and this is the low-end estimate.” She further called for “FORENSIC AUDITS, CANVASSES, ARRESTS, and LEGISLATION” stemming from the 2020 election.
Rogers also appeared Thursday on OAN, declaring to Bobb that “the canvass is an integral part of getting to the bottom of the corruption in 2020.”
The story was also promoted on Twitter by state Rep. Mark Finchem — who has also previously shared QAnon propaganda on social media, was reportedly present outside the Capitol on January 6 and tweeted in support of the rioters’ claims about a stolen election. Finchem is now saying that the state has a “duty to act” to decertify the 2020 election results and “recall” the state’s presidential electors. (No such constitutional process exists; the Electoral College delegates across the country voted last December and thus completed their own role.)
Finchem is currently running for Arizona secretary of state, and he and Bannon have promoted his efforts to recruit allied candidates to run for the chief election offices in other states.
In the real world, these “irresponsible and silly” claims have already been taken apart
It’s easy to point out that Harris, Bannon, OAN, and others are exaggerating these supposed results. But it actually gets worse: For every individual data point that Harris and her canvassers are found to have gotten wrong, her “extrapolations” will be shown to be even more wildly off.
Local reporter Garrett Archer, with Phoenix’s ABC affiliate, has done some of the early work in that area. For example, he examined the cover of Harris’ report, which featured a canvasser’s photo purporting to show a “vacant lot” at an address from which two mail-in votes were listed. In fact, an online search showed a house at that address — as part of a very large property, with the photo apparently having been taken at the opposite end.
Later on Wednesday, Harris’ group changed the cover photo — only for Archer to bust the new one, too. This new “vacant lot” photo turned out to have previously been the location of a mobile home park. (The property became vacant in 2021, when this volunteer canvass took place, but was still functioning as a mobile home park in 2020.)
Later in the evening, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, also confirmed the findings with his office. He also revealed that he had reached out nearly six months ago about concerns that people might have, in order to look over specific examples and prevent misinformation from getting out, but he had never heard back. “It is irresponsible and silly to claim 100,000+ errors and offer only 2 alleged inaccuracies,” he added, “both of which are easily debunked.”
Nevertheless, right-wing media voices and some far-right Republican politicians are now working together to promote this “easily debunked” misinformation, and leverage it toward continued efforts to discredit the results of elections in the United States.