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Arizona election worker arrested after allegedly stealing security fob for voting tabulator in Maricopa County

<i>Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

By Zachary Cohen, Jack Hannah, Donie O’Sullivan and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

(CNN) — A temporary election worker in Arizona was arrested Saturday after allegedly stealing a security fob and keys from the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, according to court documents obtained by CNN.

Arizona, and Maricopa County specifically, has been a hotbed for election conspiracy theories since 2020. The Arizona secretary of state’s office said in a Monday statement that the fact Maricopa officials identified this security incident showed that election safety protocols in the county are working. It came amid concerns the incident could be used to further enflame conspiracy theories in the state.

Maricopa County Sheriff Russ Skinner told reporters at a Phoenix news conference Tuesday that authorities “don’t have any indication at this point” that the incident was politically motivated but that they were “not ruling it out.”

Walter Ringfield, who identified himself to police as a temporary employee of the tabulation center, faces charges of theft and criminal damage. He remains in the custody of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office as he awaits his next court appearance due to an unrelated pending felony case against him, a local official confirmed to CNN.

According to court documents, Ringfield was captured on surveillance video walking past a desk and multiple tabulators just after 5 p.m. local time on June 20.

The surveillance video then shows Ringfield stopping at the desk, grabbing a lanyard with the security fob and keys attached, and placing them in his pocket, court documents say.

Ringfield was confronted by his elections supervisor about taking the security fob and keys, and he allowed security to search his car. Arizona detectives ultimately executed a search warrant of Ringfield’s home, where the fob was located.

Bill Gates, a Maricopa County supervisor, said at the news conference Tuesday that the fob had been taken during a testing of the tabulation machines in preparation for the state’s upcoming July 30 primary. The fob is part of a multi-layer security process and the fob alone would not be able to turn on a tabulation machine, Gates said.

Gates said officials had briefed the county Republican and Democratic parties on the incident. He insisted that it “should not have any impact whatsoever” on the primary.

According to investigators, the security fobs are used in conjunction with special secure tablets during the election. Because one was removed, every fob and tablet must be reprogrammed, court documents say.

A director at the elections office told investigators the estimated cost of replacing the security fobs and tablets would be more than $19,000.

“The secure operation of the facility is greatly impeded until the reprogramming is completed,” court documents note.

Skinner said Tuesday that investigators are still combing through digital evidence and items taken via a search warrant. Skinner said investigators are also reviewing the suspect’s social media and that they “don’t have anything that necessarily ties into anything beyond what we have at this point.”

During his initial court appearance Saturday, Ringfield was informed that he would remain in custody until his next court appearance, scheduled for Thursday, because of another pending felony case against him, video from his arraignment shows. Ringfield appeared surprised when the judge notified him of the other pending case and said it was his understanding the unrelated matter had already been resolved.

It was not immediately clear whether Ringfield has an attorney.

In a statement to CNN, the Arizona secretary of state’s office said the incident at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center “should reassure the public about the effectiveness of the security measures in place.”

“Our systems are not only designed to detect anomalies but are also supported by dedicated professionals committed to upholding the democratic process. While this event is unwelcome, it speaks the effectiveness of the security protocols built into Arizona’s election systems,” the statement said.

“The swift actions of the Maricopa County elections staff, including the re-conducting of logic and accuracy tests, builds in extra layers of protection of all affected equipment. This quick response will prevent any potential impact on the upcoming elections,” the office added.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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