Voting snag in Arizona fuels election conspiracy theories

PHOENIX (AP) — A printing malfunction at about one-quarter of the polling places across Arizona’s most populous county slowed down voting Tuesday, but election officials assured voters that every ballot would be counted.

Still, the issue at 60 of 223 vote centers in Maricopa County gave rise to conspiracy theories about the integrity of the vote in the pivotal state. Former President Donald Trump, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and others weighed in to claim that Democrats were trying to subvert the vote of Republicans, who tend to show up in greater numbers in person on Election Day.

Lake and several other candidates on the Arizona ballot have pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential race, amplifying Trump’s lies about a stolen election. But election officials from both political parties and members of Trump’s own Cabinet have said there was no widespread voter fraud and that Trump lost reelection to Democrat Joe Biden.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Ryan denied a request from Republicans to keep the polls open, saying that he didn’t see evidence that people were not allowed to vote.

After polls closed, the county supervisor, Republican Bill Gates, apologized, but said “every voter had the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted.”

The issue affected an unknown number of ballots in the county. About 4.5 million people live in the sprawling city and about 2.4 million are registered voters. More than 80% cast their ballots early, most by mail, and the county said about 230,000 had voted in-person about an hour before polls closed.

At issue were printers that were not producing dark enough markings on the ballots, which required election officials to change the printer settings. Until then, some voters who tried to insert their ballots into voting tabulators were forced to wait and use other machines or were told they could leave their ballots in a drop box. Those votes were expected to be counted Wednesday.

When voters in the county check in, they are handed a ballot for their specific election precinct; the races for which they can vote are printed for them. That process allows voters to go to any voting location in the county. The voters then fill out the ballot and put it into a tabulation machine to be counted.

Some of the tabulators did not read the ballots because the printers did not produce what are known as “timing marks” dark enough to be read by the machines. Timing marks tell a ballot scanner the voter’s precinct, party and other information so it can properly tabulate their choices. Voters who had their ballots rejected were told they could try the location’s second tabulator, put it in a ballot box to be counted at the central facility later or cancel it and go to another vote center.

Election officials have a variety of tools, including a different type of scanner, for accurately reading the lightly inked marks, said Eddie Perez, an election technology specialist with OSET Institute, an election security and integrity nonprofit organization. He was confident the ballots would be accurately processed.

The majority of Arizona counties do not count ballots at polling places. Officials bring the ballots to a central facility for counting. The ballots that were left in the drop boxes in Maricopa County will be counted at their central site.

The county’s main election building where votes are tabulated was the scene of protests by hundreds of Trump supporters, some of whom were armed, after he lost in 2020.

As part of the security outside the county’s tabulation center in downtown Phoenix, 11 officers patrolled the area on horseback, a fairly common practice at protests in metro Phoenix in the past. No protesters had appeared outside the center, even hours after polls had closed.

Gates, the county supervisor, said there was no need for protesters to come to the facility, although he said they had a right to be there.

“There’s nothing that happened here today that would indicate a need to be out here, a need to address some injustice,” Gates said. “We had an issue with printers that has been addressed by the good people of Maricopa County.”

The problem slowed down voting in both traditionally Democratic and Republican areas, especially at an outlet mall in conservative far-flung Anthem. Some voters there reported waiting several hours to be able to vote with the only one of two tabulators working.

At a polling place on the other side of the county, Phoenix voter Maggie Perini said she was able to vote without problem, but that a man next her in line struggled with his ballot at a different tabulator. When he switched to the machine she had used, the ballot went through.

“And then I know one woman who was coming out, she tried like four or five times for it to work and it wasn’t working,” said Perini. “And someone had told her she could leave her ballot and she’s like, No, no, no, no, no.”

Voter Michael McCuarrie said his ballot wasn’t read so he dropped it off to be counted later.

“Fine as long as the vote is counted,” said McCuarrie. “I don’t mind.”

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Associated Press writers Bob Christie and Jacques Billeaud contributed to this report.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that there are 223 vote centers, not 232.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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