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Ballots for the 2020 general election in Arizona’s Maricopa County were stored in a vault until they were transported in late April for a partisan audit led by state Republicans.
A fire destroyed two barns and killed some 165,000 chickens at a family farm linked to a Maricopa County elected official. The fire took place in March.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office told PolitiFact in a statement that its investigation of the fire found “no evidence of a crime” and “no election ballots.”
The partisan, Republican-led audit of state-certified election results in Arizona’s Maricopa County is fueling yet another baseless rumor online, as some social media users suggest that a county official intentionally destroyed ballots in a fire at his family’s chicken farm.
"A friend called me when they found out ballots were shredded at the farm," said one such post uploaded to Instagram on May 20. "An hour later it was on fire. The fire burned two huge barns. It killed 162,000 egg laying hens. (Clint) Hickman is the Chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. He owns Hickman Egg Farms. This was no coincidence."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
There’s no evidence that Maricopa County ballots were destroyed in a fire at a chicken farm. Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican, said May 18 that the chicken-farm rumor is the "the craziest conspiracy theory by far" to come out of the state GOP’s audit.
"The craziest conspiracy theory by far is that one of the board of supervisors, who happens to own a very large chicken farm, took ballots from the 2020 election, fed them to 165,000 chickens and then had them incinerated," Richer told CNN’s Don Lemon. "Now, what actually happened is that this poor man had a serious fire at one of his barns, and 165,000 chickens did die. But the idea that they had ballots inside of them … that's facially laughable."
A screenshot of a May 20, 2021, Instagram post falsely suggesting 2020 general election ballots from Maricopa County, Arizona, were burned in a chicken farm fire.
Hickman — who is not the chairman, but is a one of five elected district supervisors in Maricopa County — is also the vice president of sales and marketing at Hickman’s Family Farms, which lost two barns and over 165,000 chickens to a fire in March, according to the Arizona Republic. The fire took place at a location in Arlington, Arizona, about an hour west of Phoenix.
The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, which investigated the cause of the fire at the farm, said in a statement that the investigation "revealed there was no evidence of a crime."
"The cause of the fire was listed as unknown," the statement said. "The arson investigation revealed no election ballots."
The Buckeye Valley Fire District, whose firefighters responded to the scene, also told Snopes there was no evidence of wrongdoing and no evidence that ballots were destroyed at the site.
Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department, said the chicken-farm rumors originated in March with the Gateway Pundit, a conservative website.
The Gateway Pundit published two articles on March 6 about ballots in Maricopa County. The first alleged that "dumpsters full of shredded ballots" had been found in the county. The second was headlined: "After Finding Shredded Ballots in the Dumpster Earlier Today — A Mysterious Fire Breaks Out at Maricopa County Official’s Farm."
PolitiFact fact-checked the first of those two articles and rated the Gateway Pundit’s claim about shredded ballots in a dumpster False. Gilbertson told us then that all ballots for the 2020 general election were in a vault and under surveillance.
"No ballots from the 2020 General Election were ever removed from the vault at the Elections Department until we had to prepare them for transport to the Arizona Senate," Gilbertson said in reference to the new chicken-farm claims, which she called "false accusations."
Hickman and Hickman’s Family Farms did not respond to requests for comment. The Arizona state Republicans’ liaison for the audit declined to comment.
There were nearly 2.1 million ballots cast in Maricopa County in the 2020 general election, which saw Arizona vote for President Joe Biden. Maricopa County conducted a hand count audit of a sample of ballots, as is required by state law, and it hired independent firms to conduct a forensic audit of tabulation equipment. The county found no abnormalities.
National, state and local officials affirmed that Biden won a free and fair election, as judges across the country rejected lawsuits aimed at overturning the election in favor of former President Donald Trump. There remains no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
An Instagram post claimed that Arizona ballots were shredded and burned in a fire at a Maricopa County official's family chicken farm.
A fire did break out in March at a family chicken farm connected to an elected official on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. But an investigation by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office found no evidence of a crime — and no election ballots.
Maricopa County stored all ballots for the 2020 general election securely in a vault until they were transported on April 22 — more than a month after the fire — for the audit led by state Senate Republicans, an elections department spokesperson said. Richer, the county recorder, called the chicken-farm rumor "the craziest conspiracy theory by far" related to the audit.
We rate this statement Pants on Fire!
Instagram post, May 21, 2021
Tweet, May 22, 2021
Snopes, "No, Maricopa County Ballots Weren’t Destroyed in a Chicken Farm Fire," May 19, 2021
CNN, "Don Lemon Tonight," May 18, 2021
Maricopa County on YouTube, "Board of Supervisors Special Meeting 5-17-21," May 17, 2021
Fox 10 Phoenix on YouTube, "Ballots arrive for Maricopa County 2020 election audit," April 22, 2021
Maricopa County, "Maricopa County to Deliver Subpoenaed Election Materials to Arizona Senate," April 20, 2021
AZ Mirror, "Maricopa County: Dumpster divers didn’t find voted 2020 ballots," March 9, 2021
The Gateway Pundit, "After Finding Shredded Ballots in the Dumpster Earlier Today – A Mysterious Fire Breaks Out at Maricopa County Official’s Farm," March 6, 2021
The Gateway Pundit, "BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: Ballots In Arizona’s Maricopa County Found Shredded and In Dumpster – Days Before Senate Audit To Begin," March 6, 2021
Arizona Republic, "165,000 hens die, 2 barns destroyed in fire at Hickman's Family Farms west of Phoenix," March 6, 2021
Statement from Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, May 24, 2021
Email interview with Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department, May 24, 2021
PolitiFact, "No proof for Trump claim that a database for 2020 election in Ariz. was deleted," May 19, 2021
PolitiFact, "Ask PolitiFact: Why are Arizona Republicans auditing election results?" May 4, 2021
PolitiFact, "No proof for pro-Trump conspiracy theory of secret watermarks on Ariz. ballots," May 4, 2021
PolitiFact, "No, a quarter million fraudulent votes weren’t uncovered in an Arizona election audit," April 27, 2021
PolitiFact, "No evidence that a dumpster dive found 2020 cast ballots shredded in Arizona," March 9, 2021
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