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Arizona attorney general demands answers on Election Day printer issues

A letter addressed to a top attorney for Maricopa County injects new uncertainty into a fraught post-election dynamic

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) during a June 2 visit to the Yuma Sun newspaper. (Randy Hoeft/Yuma Sun/AP)
6 min

Arizona’s Republican attorney general has demanded answers from Maricopa County about widespread issues with printers that plagued voting on Election Day, injecting new uncertainty into a fraught post-election dynamic just days before the county is required to certify the results.

The inquiry heightens tensions between Maricopa County and the outgoing Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, who placed county officials under investigation after the 2020 election. Brnovich’s office wants answers from county officials before they submit their final election results later this month. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

A four-page document, issued Saturday on letterhead from Brnovich’s office, includes criticism of the county’s administration of the election but no findings that would call the outcome into question. Republican candidates lost the state’s most critical contests, including those for senator and governor.

Starting early on Election Day, printers at 70 of the county’s 223 polling sites produced ballots with ink that was too light to be read by vote-counting machines, county officials have said. That forced voters to wait in line, travel to another location or deposit their ballots in secure boxes that were transferred to downtown Phoenix and counted there.

County leaders have yet to explain what caused the problems, saying they will undertake a comprehensive review once ballot tabulation is complete. But they maintain that no one was denied the right to vote. An Arizona judge came to the same conclusion in denying a request from Republicans to extend voting hours on Election Day in light of the mechanical errors.

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But the Election Day issues, now highlighted by the state’s top law enforcement official, are likely to fuel Republican efforts to dispute the outcome of the election, especially the razor-thin margin in the race for attorney general, according to top lawyers associated with both parties, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid assessments of an ongoing legal matter. Democrats say they believe the claims will lack merit.

In the attorney general’s race, which appears destined for a recount, Democrat Kris Mayes led her Republican opponent, Abe Hamadeh, by just 850 votes as of Sunday. Hamadeh has promised to “lock up” people involved in the 2020 election. His campaign has been examining its legal options in coordination with national Republicans and advisers to Kari Lake, according to people familiar with the situation. Lake, the GOP nominee for governor, was projected last Monday to have lost her race and was more than 17,000 votes behind as of Sunday.

Lake has refused to concede, citing the widespread printer glitches to argue that her supporters were “disenfranchised.” Her campaign has been posting video testimonials from supporters who describe encountering the glitches, though some conclude by saying they were able to cast their ballots.

A Washington Post analysis found that the voting locations affected by the problems did not skew overwhelmingly Republican. The analysis found that the proportion of registered Republicans in affected precincts, about 37 percent, is virtually the same as the share of registered Republicans across the county, which stands at 35 percent.

Now, an election integrity unit within Brnovich’s office has weighed in. The embattled unit, created by Republican lawmakers after the 2018 midterm election brought top-to-bottom wins for Democrats, has faced criticism from election deniers and the political right more broadly for not spotlighting sufficient fraud, and from the left for using public resources to inflame misinformation about voting.

In the Saturday letter, an assistant state attorney general who leads the unit wrote that it had “received hundreds of complaints since Election Day pertaining to the administration of the 2020 General Election in Maricopa County.”

The letter is addressed to Tom Liddy, head of civil litigation for the county. It requests a report detailing difficulties with the printers, including which voting sites were affected and how county representatives determined that printer configuration settings were causing the issues with the ink. It asks for a “comprehensive log of all changes” to the settings.

Liddy declined Sunday to discuss the letter, saying he needed to meet with county officials charged with overseeing the election.

“We in Maricopa County are still waiting for the completed report from the attorney general of his ongoing investigation of the 2020 election,” Liddy said in a brief phone interview. “I am a bit surprised that he’s getting ready to start one on 2022 when he hasn’t finished the first one yet, but I wish him well.”

Bill Gates, the Republican chair of the county’s governing board, declined to comment.

The attorney general’s office also asks in the letter for information about people who may have failed to properly check out of a voting center after encountering the problems, potentially preventing them from casting a ballot elsewhere. And the letter raises concerns that ballots deposited in the secure boxes, known as “Door 3,” may have been mixed with other ballots, which the letter describes as a violation of statutory guidelines.

County officials have acknowledged isolated incidents of different batches of ballots being combined but have said that protocols, carried out with observers from both political parties present, include checking total ballots against check-ins at voting locations.

The letter requests a response by Nov. 28, the deadline for the county to certify results of the election. State certification is set for Dec. 5.

The assistant attorney general who signed the letter is Jennifer Wright, a lawyer whose 2011 bid for Phoenix mayor was backed by tea party activists. From 2010 to 2014, Wright co-chaired Verify the Vote Arizona and worked closely with True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that has made uncorroborated claims of rampant election fraud around the country.

Brnovich, the attorney general, affirmed the legitimacy of the 2020 election despite pressure from then-President Donald Trump to line up behind Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud. But as a failed candidate in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate this year, Brnovich emphasized his office’s work on election integrity and claimed that he was turning up “serious concerns.” His office has prosecuted about 20 cases of voter fraud over the past three years in a state of more than 4 million voters.

Days before the November election, Brnovich made his bluntest comments to date about candidates who deny Trump’s loss, calling them “clowns” engaged in a “giant grift.” County leaders last week approved moving forward with a lawsuit against Brnovich’s office over its alleged failure to produce public records stemming from the state’s investigation into them.

In the days since the Nov. 8 midterms, Republicans have been vague about possible litigation.

A legal expert said that even if Republicans attempt to use Brnovich’s letter to bolster their efforts to challenge the outcome of close races, it should have no implications for approving the results.

“It’s legally nothing,” said Tom Irvine, a now-retired lawyer with four decades of election law experience who represented Maricopa County in the 1990s and 2000s.

“There’s no proof that anyone was disadvantaged,” said Irvine, a Democrat.

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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.