A top elections official in Maricopa County, Arizona, was moved to an undisclosed location for his safety following threats on social media related to the midterm elections, the county confirmed to NBC News on Monday.
The official, Bill Gates, the chairman of the Maricopa County board of supervisors, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Fox10 Phoenix first reported the news of him being moved on Sunday.
Election workers like Gates have experienced a rise in threats following the 2020 election and former President Donald Trump’s election lies. Gates, a Republican, told NBC News ahead of the election that he had been working with local law enforcement amid “vile emails and social media posts.”
At a press conference Monday, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said he’d recommended Gates and his family go to a safe location for one night because of threats that were still under investigation.
“I’m always going to err on the side of overreacting to keep people safe,” Penzone said. “Until I felt that our detectives had a chance to get their arms around any potential threats that may do harm to him or his family, I was not going to allow for them to be in harm’s way.”
Penzone said there had been a large number of threats toward election officials in the state, with some coming from social media and from out of state. “We are not going to tolerate it,” he said.
A Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting last week grew tense as some attendees pushed conspiracy theories, berated officials and even demanded that the election be nullified.
Maricopa, which was the heart of pro-Trump election denialism in 2020, became a flashpoint during this year’s elections as technicians scrambled to fix dozens of malfunctioning vote tabulation machines on Election Day. It took hours before a solution was identified, prompting officials to rebuff claims that the integrity of the election was compromised. Officials at the time urged voters at polling sites where machines had malfunctioned to exercise other options, including either dropping their ballots off in a secure box or going to another location to vote.
“Everyone is still getting to vote. No one has been disenfranchised,” Gates told reporters in downtown Phoenix on Election Day, following reports of equipment problems.
A state judge denied an emergency request by the Republican National Committee to extend voting hours just ahead of the closing of state polls at 9 p.m. ET., saying that the GOP failed to show that anyone was actually prevented from voting.
Asked about whether the technical issues were further fueling distrust in the election system, Gates told NBC News on Election Day that the county’s handling of the situation should give voters confidence in the election process.
“We have hiccups,” Gates told NBC News at the time. “They had a hiccup with the Powerball drawing last night, right? These things happen, but I would say to them, actually this should make them feel good because they see the type of redundancies that we have in place.”
Despite potential safety concerns, Gates has been tweeting videos in which he explains the latest updates in the vote count process as recently as Sunday night.
Some GOP politicians and pundits swiftly seized on the widespread issue of malfunctioning vote tabulation machines in Arizona’s largest county on Election Day by pushing misleading or false information.
In a post to his Truth Social account, former President Donald Trump wrote that Arizona had “another big voter tabulation problem” and Maricopa County was a “complete Voter Integrity DISASTER.”
The word “cheating” also trended on Twitter on the morning of Election Day, with some accounts amplifying a burgeoning right-wing conspiracy theory drawing from a single video in Anthem, Arizona, in which an election worker informed a crowd that a pair of vote tabulators were not working. The worker is seen telling voters to place their ballots in “Box 3,” where they would get counted manually or later fed into the tabulator, a routine way to count ballots in the case of a tabulator outage.
Kari Lake, the GOP candidate for Arizona governor endorsed by Trump, and Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward were among several prominent Twitter accounts who shared the video in an effort to sow doubt on the election process. Both Lake and Ward have espoused baseless claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Lake on Monday attacked Maricopa County officials over both the election night technical issues and the prolonged vote count.
During his briefing Monday, Penzone called on political leaders to be more responsible and declined to single out Lake.
“There’s a lot of candidates who say things they shouldn’t,” he said, including “people who politically maybe didn’t see the outcomes they were hoping for. Have some courage and speak out and say these types of threats aren’t okay against our opponents any more than they would be against us.”
Maricopa is the fourth-largest county in the country and is widely considered the key to Arizona elections. Most of the battleground state’s ballots are cast in the county and the results of an election there typically match the outcome statewide.