Judge rejects last-minute GOP plea to keep Maricopa County polls open longer
Polls in Maricopa County closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday as scheduled after a Maricopa County judge denied an 11th-hour request from Republicans to extend voting hours to 10 p.m. .
GOP Candidates Kari Lake and Blake Masters, along with the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, filed the suit late Tuesday against Maricopa County demanding that polling places remain open later than scheduled.
The suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, citing problems with tabulation machines that contributed to delays at around 60 of the 223 voting centers in the county.
"This court finds no evidence that voters were precluded from turning in ballots, although there was some confusion and some difficulties," said Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Tim Ryan in a hearing in the suit shortly before polls closed Tuesday.
In the suit, the Republican candidates and organizations claimed that "at least 36% of all voting centers across Maricopa County have been afflicted with pervasive and systemic malfunctions of ballot tabulation devices and printers, which has burdened voters with excessive delays and long lines."
The Republicans argue that the issues at the polls caused some voters to leave without voting because of "untenably long lines..
During the emergency hearing Tuesday evening, attorneys for the county argued that no one in Maricopa County was denied the right to vote. The county's 223 polling centers were open during mandated polling hours from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Anyone whose ballot couldn't be read by the on-site tabulation machines was given options, including putting their voted ballot in a box to be tallied later or going to another polling place to vote.
But the Republicans who filed the suit claimed that some voters whose ballots couldn't be read by the tabulation machines were informed that they could discard that ballot and go to a different polling place to vote. Those voters failed to be "checked out" of the voting center they were at so their ballot was destroyed, however, which meant when they arrived at a second polling place, it appeared as if they had already voted, so they couldn't vote there or were required to cast a provisional ballot.
But the Republican plaintiffs didn't include any of those voters, and the legal challenge didn't mention any specific voters who were disenfranchised.
"I don't see that anyone wasn't allowed to vote," Ryan said, in response to the plaintiffs' claims.
The Republicans alleged that the tabulation issues shortened the 13-hour voting period required by law, and that extending the voting hours "is necessary to prevent irreparable injury to the Plaintiffs and their members and supporters, and is demanded by the balance of equities and crucial public policy considerations."
But Maricopa County's attorneys told the judge that it would be impossible, at 6:45 p.m. on election night, when polls close at 7 p.m., to communicate with all the polling centers to let them know to stay open — especially since the people working there would be unlikely to answer their phones.
The judge agreed that it would be impossible for him to order the polls to stay open, ruling at about 6:55 p.m. that the extension for voting wouldn't be granted.
The suit also asked that inspectors at every polling location allow any voter who has been recorded as already having cast a ballot in this election be allowed to cast a provisional ballot — and that those provisional ballots be counted if the voter can "demonstrate to the satisfaction of" a judge that they had not previously voted.
But the county's lawyers argued that allowing people to cast provisional ballots after 7 p.m. on Election Day would open up the polls to voter fraud from people claiming that they were denied the right to vote, but who actually weren't.
By mid-afternoon on Election Day, Maricopa County announced that it was beginning to fix the tabulation issues caused by printer settings that didn't produce dark enough timing marks on the ballots. Tabulation issues happened at 60 vote centers out of 223 in Maricopa County, the county said.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer apologized for the issues and promised that every legal ballot would be counted.
He encouraged voters to put their ballot in the box in the tabulator to be counted later or go to a different site that wasn't experiencing issues. Voters were told to make sure they checked out of line at the voting center experiencing issues before heading to a different polling location.
***UPDATE: This story has been updated with the court's ruling on the legal challenge and its headline has been changed. The original headline was "Republicans sue for extended voting hours in Maricopa County."
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.