CLAIM: Air traffic maps show that a government spy plane has been circling over the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix to monitor an audit of Maricopa County ballots taking place there.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The maps show a Phoenix Police Department aircraft responding to police calls unrelated to the audit, according to the department.
THE FACTS: As a private company hired by Arizona’s Republican-led state Senate conducts an unprecedented recount of ballots from November’s presidential election in the state’s most populous county, social media users are falsely claiming the government is using a plane to spy on its progress.
“Intelligence Surveillance Aircraft Has Been Circling AZ Audit Location And Collecting Information On American Citizens Working For Election Integrity,” read a May 2 headline from CD Media, a website with a history of spreading election-related conspiracy theories.
“Spy Plane Identified Circling the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum Where the Election Audit is Taking Place — What’s Going On?” read a speculative headline that was repeated on several conservative websites.
The stories featured images of air traffic maps showing a Pilatus PC-12/47E aircraft flying in the Phoenix area, west of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Some of the stories pointed out that the Phoenix Police Department owns an aircraft with that description and speculated that it could be surveilling the stadium from above.
However, Maggie Cox, a public information sergeant with the department, confirmed to The Associated Press that the plane’s activities were unrelated to the recount.
“We have nothing, zero, zilch to do with that,” Cox said in a phone call to the AP. She said while the maps accurately represent the police department’s flights, “the aircraft was on police calls that had nothing to do with the events at the Veteran Memorial Coliseum.”
Cox told the AP that on one of the flights, the plane was helping police on the ground work a stolen vehicle case. The department’s planes are “called on for many things,” Cox said, but the election audit has not been one of them.
Arizona’s Republican-led state Senate used its subpoena power to take possession of all 2.1 million ballots, the machines that counted them, and computer hard drives full of data in Maricopa County. They handed the materials to Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based consultancy with no election experience run by a man who has shared unfounded claims that Biden’s presidential win was not legitimate.
Election experts and Arizona’s secretary of state have expressed concerns about the recount, which they say isn’t following standard procedures to transparently and accurately count votes.
Joe Biden won Arizona by nearly 10,500 votes and won Maricopa County by just over 45,000 votes.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536