Tabulating machines at some polling locations in Maricopa County, Arizona, couldn’t process ballots during part of Election Day, though affected voters could leave their ballots in a secure box or go elsewhere to vote. But some conservatives, including former President Donald Trump, made the unfounded claim that the setback indicated an attempt to “steal” the election.
Printers in Maricopa County, Arizona, produced ballots that were too light for scanners to read at some polling locations for part of the day on Election Day, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department.
Election workers identified the problem and began fixing it by mid-afternoon, the elections department said in a post on Twitter. Tabulators at approximately 60 of the county’s more than 200 polling locations were affected.
Throughout the day, election officials advised that voters could leave their ballot in a secure box to be tabulated later, or they could check out of the polling location and cast a ballot at a different location.
Arizona’s elections have drawn national attention in this midterm cycle in part because a slate of election deniers were on the ballot for statewide office — including the Republican candidate for governor, Kari Lake, who started casting doubt on this year’s election as ballots were being counted in her close race. Arizona also had one of the tight races that could determine control of the Senate, between Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat, and Republican Blake Masters.
So it wasn’t surprising that conservative commentators with large followings on social media used the ballot situation to stoke anxiety about the integrity of the election.
Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, was among the first to do so, according to a graph compiled by researchers at the University of Washington that charted the rise of claims about the Maricopa situation.
One of Kirk’s tweets claimed: “2 hour wait minimum at most polling places in Maricopa. Democrats running elections here knew this would happen. Traffic jam by design. DONT LET THEM DO 2020 AGAIN.”
The county responded, sharing a screenshot of Kirk’s tweet with a post that said, “No part of the tweet below is accurate. The vast majority of Vote Centers are seeing wait times under 30 minutes, and whether by tabulator or secure ballot box, all voters are being served.” The county included a link to its election website, where voters could find information on polling places and wait times.
It’s also worth noting that elections in Maricopa County, contrary to Kirk’s claim, are run by a Republican-controlled board of supervisors and recorder’s office. Four of the five members of the board of supervisors, including the board chairman, are Republicans, as is the Maricopa County recorder.
So, there weren’t long lines at most polling locations, and the officials in charge of the election were almost exclusively Republican.
Still, others — including Donald Trump Jr. and commentator Candace Owens — amplified similar suggestions over the course of the afternoon, according to the University of Washington graph.
Former President Donald Trump, who has frequently spread election misinformation, made suggestive claims on his own social media platform. He claimed “they” — without identifying anyone — were trying to “steal” the election.
But from the time that the county posted a video of elections officials reporting the problem in the morning, it appeared to be an issue affecting a minority of locations and the county offered remedies for any voter who was affected.
Stephen Richer, the Maricopa County Recorder, reassured voters in a statement, saying: “Every legal vote will be tabulated. I promise.”
So, the combination of closely watched races with a malfunction in the election machinery was a recipe for widespread conspiratorial claims. Other largely innocuous glitches in election machines have led to similar claims elsewhere, including Detroit, where election officials explained that they had resolved a “harmless data error” that had caused confusion at some polling locations. As we have written, Trump had made misleading claims about that city, too.
Update, Nov. 29: Maricopa County issued a report on Nov. 27 that offered more details on the issue with its printers, although the county’s root-cause analysis is still underway. The report found that 43 of the county’s 223 vote centers had been confirmed to have had a printer-related issue on Election Day – that’s 19%. But, the report explained, other voting options meant that “every voter was afforded the ability to legally and securely cast their ballot.” Voters who encountered problems had the option to deposit their ballots in a secure box to be tabulated later. The report said 16,724 ballots, or 1% of the total ballots issued by the county, were put in secure boxes.
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Maricopa County (@maricopacounty). “.@maricopavote has identified the solution for the tabulation issues at about 60 Vote Centers. County technicians have changed the printer settings, which seems to have resolved this issue. It appears some of the printers were not producing dark enough timing marks on ballots.” 1/3. Twitter. 8 Nov 2022.
Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote). “Maricopa County has identified the solution for the tabulation issues at about 60 Vote Centers. This solution has worked at 17 locations, and technicians deployed throughout the county are working to resolve this issue at the remaining locations.” Twitter. 8 Nov 2022.
Maricopa County Elections Department. Where to vote — voting locations & drop boxes. Accessed 8 Nov 2022.
Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote). “Advice for Voters: If a tabulator is not working at a site, you can still vote! You have the option to cast your ballot and place it into the secure ballot box. The poll workers on site at the voting location are best equipped to help you ensure your ballot cast.” Twitter. 8 Nov 2022.
Starbird, Kate (@katestarbird). “Interactive graph tracking discourse re: voting issues in Maricopa County, incl. legitimate concerns, motivated criticism, directives for how to make sure votes are counted, and some false claims (of intentionality). We’ll keep watching as this evolves.” Twitter. 8 Nov 2022.
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Richer, Stephen (@stephen_richer). “STATEMENT.” Twitter. 8 Nov 2022.
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