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Arizona authorities are investigating theft of device that allows access to vote tabulators

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona authorities on Tuesday said they were investigating whether a 27-year-old temporary election worker in the state’s largest county had political motivations when he stole a fob that would allow him access to vote tabulators just before the July 30 primary.

“This is not your average theft,” Maricopa County Sheriff Russ Skinner said at a news conference in Phoenix, adding that he had no information yet on the suspect’s beliefs.

Skinner said authorities were reviewing Walter Ringfield’s social media feeds and phone to determine whether he was working with anyone when he took the small black fob that allows access to the tabulators used in the county, which has been the subject of election conspiracy theories ever since President Joe Biden narrowly beat former President Donald Trump in the state four years ago.

Trump falsely claimed there was massive fraud in Maricopa, leading to Republican lawmakers launching an error-riddled review of the ballot count and a long string of threats against the local GOP officials who stood by their staff’s tallies. As the county geared up for the primary — in which the Republican county recorder and a Republican county supervisors are being challenged by election conspiracy theorists — it hired more than 2,000 temporary workers to help with the election.

Ringfield was one of them. On Thursday, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office, surveillance footage showed Ringfield taking one of the fobs from a desk shortly after 5 p.m. He was arrested at his Phoenix home the next day after election workers realized that one of the fobs was missing, authorities said.

Ringfield told the sheriff’s department he took the fob because he was trying to help clean up. He also said he had hoped to get a permanent position in the elections office, according to the agency’s statement. The public defender’s office said a lawyer had not yet been assigned to represent Ringfield.

Skinner and Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said election officials reprogrammed the tabulators to make sure they could not be accessed by the fob and then conducted a new test of the counting equipment to make sure it worked, with observers from both major parties. A Republican, Gates stressed that the incident shows the security of the county’s operation.

“The suspect was arrested the day we determined it was missing,” Gates said. “This incident has shown all of the protocols that are in place. We have cameras. We have observers.”

Alluding to the years of turmoil around elections in the county, Gates added: “I certainly hope people don’t take this incident to spin up further conspiracy theories.”

The Republican National Committee in a statement said it dispatched staff to Maricopa in response to the incident. The party’s election integrity operation is led by Christina Bobb, an attorney and former reporter for a conservative news network who promoted the conspiratorial review of the 2020 election in the county.

“This incident raises serious questions about election security in Arizona that must be answered –- we will be constructively engaged with Maricopa County officials to ensure that the remedies to this security breach sufficiently address our concerns,” RNC chairman Michael Whatley said in a statement.

Nicholas Riccardi, The Associated Press