The Last Thing Maricopa Needs: Alleged Theft In Tabulation Center Sets Off Big Lie 2.0

High speed tabulation machines for counting early ballots stand secured in the tabulation room at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC) ahead of the 2024 Arizona Primary and General elections in ... High speed tabulation machines for counting early ballots stand secured in the tabulation room at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC) ahead of the 2024 Arizona Primary and General elections in Phoenix, Arizona on June 3, 2024. Maricopa County election workers have repeatedly been the target of harassment and threats since the 2020 US election due to the spread of online misinformation about voter fraud. Officials are preparing for another onslaught of conspiracy theories in the 2024 presidential race by bulking up security and giving public tours at their ballot tabulation facility in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Last week, a temporary election worker in Maricopa County, Arizona was arrested after allegedly stealing a security fob and keys from the county’s voting tabulation center.

The challenge for election officials in the county, which was ground zero for election misinformation and threats against election workers following the 2020 election, is less about increasing security protocols — election experts and officials say those are highly effective. The challenge, election officials in the county told TPM, lies in cutting off election lies before they run rampant and cause any further destruction.

And for a county continually plagued by dangerous disinformation, it will be a herculean task to make sure conspiracy theorists don’t latch onto this incident as fodder for more lies about the integrity of the election system — especially because the rumors are already being spread by right-wingers and those with ties to the Big Lie.

Just days after the temporary election worker Walter Ringfield was arrested for an alleged theft that occurred late last month, election deniers and conspiracy theorists posted on X spinning up a false narrative around the incident: that it was part of some larger Democratic conspiratorial plot against MAGA and that the media was deliberately not covering the incident

“We’ve seen every election since 2020 that Maricopa County has run, whether it was a legitimate issue, a benign mistake, or even just a misunderstanding,” Zachary Schira, executive director for Maricopa County said in an interview with TPM, “I think there is a certain subset of folks that are going to take it and make it more of an issue than it is.”

Following the alleged theft, former Donald Trump campaign fundraiser and advisor to election denier and failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, Caroline Wren, posted on X saying: “Democrats get caught red handed. The media and left-wing twitter trolls immediately start to spin and make up false narratives blaming MAGA.”

Bryan Blehm, an attorney for Lake while she unsuccessfully challenged her failed 2022 gubernatorial candidate, similarly described the incident on X as a story of “a stolen security fob and access keys by a Democratic Party activist who had possession of them off campus over night.” 

“Who else had access and why did he. Starting to sound like the deleted database from the 2020 election. What is Maricopa County hiding and why do many of these people still have jobs?,” Blehm posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

In reality, though, the fact that the alleged theft was discovered so quickly actually highlights the robust security protocols Maricopa County officials have put into place, David Becker, the executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research, told TPM. 

“It’s a real credit to Maricopa County that they discovered this and it should inspire trust,” he said. 

While conducting standard inventory, officials discovered that a security device, or a security key to one of the precinct-based tabulators, was missing, one day after it was allegedly stolen. And within “a short period of time” officials contacted law enforcement. That same evening, Ringfield was arrested and terminated from his position, according to Jennifer Liewer, Maricopa County deputy director of elections for communications.

“The system worked pretty darn well and we were able to address it very quickly,” added Liewer. “I think now our focus is explaining to the public what it was that occurred to try to address any misinformation that might be out there about the theft.”

The fact that the incident has already been spun up as evidence of some sort of liberal scheme to attack Republicans is straight out of the 2020 MAGA playbook — bad actors leveraging mistakes, or real unfortunate incidents that are quickly corrected like this most recent one, as a way to sow seeds of distrust and chaos into the election system. 

“Election officials can’t magically make everybody a good person, but they can make sure that in those rare instances where there are bad actors, that they won’t impact your ability to vote and that the votes will be counted accurately,” Becker said.  

The county, the second largest voting jurisdiction in the country, does not plan on changing protocols, but will focus even more on transparency, so that voters can rest assured that elections will continue to run smoothly and safely, officials said. This includes helping voters understand the many challenges that come along with hiring between two and 3000 employees three times a year to successfully run an election. The county has a background check protocol and security protocols built into the hiring process, but these processes, as effective as they are, can’t flag every potential bad actor.

“It’s just reminding folks that we train for this, given the nature of how we have to run elections, it’s something that we factor in and that when these instances occur, we take a deep breath and we act on our training,” Schira, the county’s executive director, said. “We’ll just make sure that protocols are continuing to be followed inside the tabulation center.”

Latest News

Notable Replies

  1. Avatar for tpr tpr says:

    Roberts knows he will have an opportunity to call the election for Trump.

    Every since 2016, they’ve been governing like they would never be out of power. Because they’ve resolved to make it that way.

    Accept what already is, and start thinking about what to do about it. As Josh told us recently, even after bad things, there is a tomorrow.

  2. Avatar for tpr tpr says:

    Roberts thinks he can control Trump because Trump will be a government official bound by rules that Roberts gets to interpret.

    Roberts forgets that Trump has access to Putin’s novichok, etc. He forgets that Trump will readily resort to violence (again). He forgets that Trump recruits lieutenants who are criminals and thugs, and that’s why he was always going around Congress to get them installed.

    Roberts forgets that the legions of dedicated civil servants who shield him from violence do so because they believe in Constitution’s promise that all people are equal before the law.

    He acts like he’s got it all figured out.

    Roberts is always wearing a strange grimace in his photographs. Makes sense: he has known what project he was up to this whole time, and he should have anticipated that it would always lead to him making a deal with the devil to smash through the Constitution, and he should have learned from the humanities that people who make deals with the devil always get destroyed by the devil.

    Once a B-student with a dead imagination, always a B-student with a dead imagination. No wonder he’s a Libertarian extremist.

  3. Avatar for dont dont says:

    Of course the rethugs are screaming Democrat. Is there any record of this clown’s affiliation?

  4. Its evidence of the machine they have for spreading this stuff. All these fools meet once a week at least. In a tax-free building where they claim to speak for the creator of the entire universe.

    And He says:

    Drill Baby Drill!!


  5. Terminating the perp from his job is weak sauce. If we want to spin alternative conspiracy theories, do we know this is not some Magat false flag operation?

    How about a public execution by firing squad, pour encourager les autres?

Continue the discussion at

8 more replies


Avatar for system1 Avatar for xpurg8d Avatar for richardinjax Avatar for sysprog Avatar for dont Avatar for darrtown Avatar for wagonmound Avatar for isakindamagic Avatar for tpr Avatar for taylor Avatar for rascal_crone Avatar for chjim

Continue Discussion
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: