The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Problems with voting machines in Arizona’s Maricopa County trigger unfounded fraud claims

The issue was affecting about a quarter of voting locations, officials said. No one was being prevented from voting, and lines were short in many locations.

On Nov. 8, Maricopa County elections officials said tabulators at about 20 percent of the 223 voting locations in the county were experiencing problems. (Video: The Washington Post)

PHOENIX — Problems with vote-counting machines at some polling locations in Maricopa County, home to more than 60 percent of Arizona’s voters, became grist for prominent right-wing voices who deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election to claim without evidence that Tuesday’s vote was also fraudulent.

At about a quarter of the county’s 223 voting locations, vote-counting machines were unable to read some of the ballots that are printed on-demand for voters, county officials said. Technicians traveled around the county Tuesday changing the printer settings. In the meantime, election officials advised voters to either wait for tabulators to come back online, go to another voting location or to drop ballots in secure slots so they could be counted at the end of the day or in the coming days at the county’s tabulation center in downtown Phoenix, said Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for the county’s election department.

County officials stressed that no one was being prevented from voting and that no one’s ballot had been mishandled. They have said for weeks that ballot counting could take as many as 12 days.

“There has not been a voter — as far as I know — a voter who has been turned away, who presented valid ID,” said Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. “The only issue is how the vote was tabulated. Whether it was tabulated at the site,” or at the county’s tabulation center.

Attorneys for top Republicans, including the national party and the respective candidates and committees, asked a judge on Tuesday afternoon to require county officials to extend voting times by three hours, among other things. A judge denied the request, arguing that Republicans were unable to show that any voter had been denied the ability to cast a ballot.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who is also the Democratic candidate for governor, sought to reassure voters that the technical errors were minor and would not stand in the way of ballot counting.

“Every single voter can be confident that their vote will be counted,” Hobbs said during an election afternoon stop at a polling place in south Phoenix.

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More than 103,000 people had voted at polling locations as of Tuesday afternoon, with some sites experiencing lines. About 75 vote centers had less than 10 minute wait times, Gilbertson said. A vast majority of Arizona voters usually cast their ballots early.

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican who is responsible for voter registration and early voting, apologized in a statement posted on Twitter to “any voter who has been frustrated or inconvenienced.” Richer promised “every legal vote will be tabulated.”

Kari Lake, the Republican nominee for governor, lambasted the county for the problems but bristled at a question about whether she had grounds to say the results wouldn’t be accurate.

“I haven’t suggested that,” Lake said Tuesday, speaking to reporters after voting in downtown Phoenix. “We’re going to see what happens.” She urged people to stay in line, saying, “Don’t let all this craziness stop you from voting.”

Critics of Arizona’s voting systems seized on the ballot-counting problems on Twitter and conservative social media sites, offering them as examples of a need to overhaul the state’s voting systems. One post included a video of a poll worker advising voters of their options and has been viewed more than a half-million times. It was posted by Tyler Bowyer, chief operating officer of the political arm of the pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA. That group supports in-person voting at individual precincts on Election Day, and Bowyer has been critical of the state’s early-voting system.

How a pro-Trump youth group remade the Arizona GOP, testing democracy

The problems caught the attention of former president Donald Trump, who continues to baselessly contest his loss in the state in 2020. He noted that many Republicans decided to vote on Tuesday instead of casting their ballots by mail. “Here we go again,” he wrote on Telegram. “The people will not stand for it!!!”

Online, right-wing influencers also seized on the issues. “The fix is in!” wrote the Gateway Pundit, a blog that was a key spreader of false claims about the 2020 election. “Why are tax payers money being used to pay for tabulators that don’t work? Looks like it’s time to go back to what worked on Election day. Paper Ballots & Hand Counting!” wrote an account for Diamond and Silk, a comedy duo.

Those preemptively suggesting something nefarious was occurring included Blake Masters, Arizona’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. Masters, who is vying to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), was the most prominent candidate to amplify the suspicions, painting isolated incidents of mechanical errors as a Democratic ploy. “Hard to know if we’re seeing incompetence or something worse,” he wrote. “All we know right now is that the Democrats are hoping you will get discouraged and go home.”

Researchers tracking the spread of online misinformation said problems with voting machines were among the most common drivers of conspiracy theorizing early Tuesday, with the narrative stretching beyond Arizona and reaching Michigan and Pennsylvania as well.

A Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency senior official said the agency has been in touch with election officials, both in Maricopa County and at the state level to address any technical issues that could impact their ability to administer the election with integrity. With that resolved, the official said, the agency plans to help amplify election officials as trusted voices.

At a polling place in Glendale, some 30 miles north of downtown Phoenix, prospective voters formed an hours-long queue as the sun set on Election Day, turning the sky above Dove of the Desert Methodist Church pale pink.

Wes and Cindy Granger finally cast their ballots here after waiting three hours — and they would’ve stood there even longer if they had to.

“We would have stayed here until midnight,” said Cindy, 69. “There’s no way we would have left.”

The married couple were committed to voting in person, and weathering the long lines that came with the tabulation machine troubles, because they said they didn’t trust mail-in ballots or drop boxes.

“I think people in Arizona are suspicious anyway, and when things like this happen it makes you even more suspicious,” said Wes, 70, who returned from a three-day hunting trip with his grandson to vote in person. “Hopefully they can curb that.”

After filling out their ballots and unsuccessfully running them through the tabulation machine, the Grangers said they were allowed to use the precinct’s accessible voting device, a computerized touch-screen system. They left feeling confident their votes — for Republicans across the board — were counted.

And so did Erin O’Brien. The 41-year-old filled out her ballot in-person and dropped it in a box at the polling place to be counted at the county recorder’s office later — the alternative option here for those who wanted a shorter wait time.

O’Brien, who voted for the Democratic slate of candidates, said the process took an hour. She likes to cast her ballot in-person and bring her teenage son along, she said, so she can show him firsthand the importance of voting.

“But I think now I’ll probably do mail-in,” she said with a laugh. “Because this is ridiculous.”

Tim Starks and Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.

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Georgia runoff election: Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) won re-election in the Georgia Senate runoff, defeating Republican challenger Herschel Walker and giving Democrats a 51st seat in the Senate for the 118th Congress. Get live updates here and runoff results by county.

Divided government: Republicans narrowly won back control of the House, while Democrats will keep control of the Senate, creating a split Congress.

What the results mean for 2024: A Republican Party red wave seems to be a ripple after Republicans fell short in the Senate and narrowly won control in the House. Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign shortly after the midterms. Here are the top 10 2024 presidential candidates for the Republicans and Democrats.

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