Solution found to Maricopa County's ballot-scanning problem
About 1 in 5 ballot tabulators were not working properly in Maricopa County. The county offered voters a work-around and votes will still be counted.
This article has been updated with new information.
There were problems tabulating ballots at nearly a third of all vote centers in Maricopa County all morning on Election Day, but by the afternoon, county officials had figured out a fix.
Vote-counting machines were having trouble tabulating the ballots because the timing marks on the ballot — the black lines on the sides that tell the machine where the contests are located so the machine can tally the votes — were not printing correctly. As a result, the machines were rejecting the ballots.
By 3:45 p.m., technicians had resolved the problem at most of the affected locations. But with intense national scrutiny on voting in Arizona, the damage had been done: GOP leaders across the state, echoed by former president Donald Trump, had already begun suggesting this problem was not an accident and was disenfranchising Republican voters.
County Supervisor Chairman Bill Gates was adamant at two news conferences that was not the case, saying that “none of this indicates any fraud or anything of that sort.” The county was offering options for voters, and Gates reassured the public that all ballots cast would be counted.
“Everyone is still getting to vote,” Gates said. “No one is being disenfranchised. And we have redundancies in place.”
Republicans filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon saying that voters had been disenfranchised and asking a judge to keep vote centers open until 10 p.m. and to delay releasing any results until 11 p.m., but a Superior Court judge in Maricopa County denied the request moments before polls closed, saying there was no evidence voters were disenfranchised. The Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaigns for congressional candidate Blake Masters and Kari Lake, and a voter jointly filed the lawsuit.
The problem was occurring at 60 of the 223 vote centers, or about 27%, open Tuesday, but did not seem to cause long lines at most. At the height of the malfunction, fewer than two dozen locations countywide had a line, and the longest lines were 30 to 40 minutes long, according to county officials.
“There is no question this is frustrating,” Gates said. But he said voters were still able to vote at these locations. “We don’t believe anyone has been disenfranchised.”
Technicians find a solution
Gates said he was thankful for the county’s technical staff, who figured out a solution.
The printer settings were incorrect at the locations that were having the issues, causing the timing marks to not be dark enough to be properly read by the vote-counting machines. But the issue was only happening for some ballots and some vote-counting machines. County officials are not sure yet why that would be.
The county used the same printer settings during in-person early voting. But the county does not tabulate ballots on-site during early voting. Instead, all ballots cast are sent to the county’s central elections center and tabulated there, and the county uses different machines there to tabulate the ballots than the ones in use at vote centers on Election Day. The county did not have any similar problems during early voting, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson with the county’s Elections Department.
The secretary of state’s office offered technical support as the situation unfolded, according to C. Murphy Hebert, communications director for the office. The county consulted with its ballot printer, Runbeck, and the manufacturer of the vote-counting machines, Dominion Voting Systems, Gilbertson said.
There are two vote-counting machines at each of the 223 vote centers spread out across the county. If both machines had problems reading the ballots, voters were offered a few options.
First, if they wanted to vote immediately, they were able to place their ballot into a secure box underneath the machine where the ballot would be kept until polls close. At that point, the ballots would be transported by a bipartisan team to the county’s central elections center and they would be counted there.
The county’s elections director, Scott Jarrett, is confident that the machines at central count will be able to tabulate the ballots, in part because there were no problems using the machines to tabulate early ballots cast in-person using the same printers and printer settings.
Multiple counties in the state tabulate all ballots at central count facilities, because they do not have on-site vote-counting machines.
If voters did not want to place their ballots into the secure box, they were able to either wait for the machines to start properly tabulating the ballots again or travel to another nearby location to vote. If a voter decided to leave, they had to spoil their original ballot and have a poll worker sign them out of the first location before they left. That will allow them to vote at the second location.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake incorrectly tweeted on Tuesday that these voters would need to use provisional ballots at the second location. This is not the case. If voters are properly checked out at the first location, they can vote normally at any other location, Gilbertson said.
Gilbertson said that poll workers are trained on this, and these directions are in the training manual.
Voters can look up the nearest location to them, and check wait times, at locations.maricopa.vote.
Republican leaders use problems for political points
But Republican leaders quickly declared malfeasance. Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward took to Twitter to slam Republican Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer and Democratic Secretary of State and gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs over the issue.
Republican Secretary of State nominee Mark Finchem, one of the state’s leading promoters of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, used the problem to urge a “return to paper ballots, hand counting, at the precinct on election day.” In fact, all ballots in Arizona are paper ballots.
The problem appeared to affect tabulators spaced across the county, and voters and poll workers from Scottsdale to Goodyear have called in to the Election Protection hotline run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to file complaints about the machines. But Moseley, the county spokesperson, said the county is not yet releasing the list of 60 affected locations.
Some of the vote-counting machines are being used for the first time this election.
The county had to spend millions to replace most of its vote-counting machines after the 2020 presidential election review conducted by contractors hired by Arizona Senate Republicans. That’s because the secretary of state’s office said the chain of custody on the machines had been broken and their office might not recertify the machines.
Some of those machines were used in the primary election, but not all of them. That’s because there are more than double the number of voting locations for this election, so more than double the number of machines are in use.
Because the county had used the same printers and machines during the primary election, it was a challenge to identify what was new this time and could be causing the glitch, Gates said at the county’s 2 p.m. news conference.
“This was a surprise to everyone,” he said.
The county tests each ballot printer and each vote-counting machine before the election, Gilbertson said. Test ballots are printed using each printer and multiple test ballots are run through each vote-counting machine, she said.
Votebeat freelancer Hank Stephenson contributed to this report.
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