Arizona Voting Machine Issues Did Not Impact Election Integrity, Local Officials Say

A review and report from Maricopa County election officials offers a clearer view into what happened, and contests Republican conspiracy theories.

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An election worker at the Maricopa County Recorders Office verifies a printed ballot against a digital version.
An election worker at the Maricopa County Recorders Office verifies a printed ballot against a digital version.
Photo: Matt York (AP)

It was a simple printing bug that caused some vote tabulating machines to reject ballots on Election Day in Maricopa County, Arizona, according to a report released Sunday from the county’s Elections Department.

Disinformation spread rapidly on November 8, when some voting machines in the Southwest state’s most populous county glitched out. However, counter to many Republican conspiracy theories, the technical issue didn’t cause any problems with final vote counts or election integrity, the Elections Department indicated.

Poll workers and election officials instructed voters whose ballots were rejected to either place their ballots into “Box 3" or “Door 3" for counting at the central facility, or to go to one of the numerous other open voting locations around the county if they preferred. In total, just 16,724 ballots ended up in Box 3, representing about 1% of all ballots issued during the 2022 general election, said the report. And all of those eligible ballots were securely tallied using the state’s longstanding back-up system.

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Transferring ballots from polling stations to a central counting facility is a common practice throughout Arizona. The method is even used as the standard in eight counties, noted the report. But that didn’t stop right-wing pundits like Donald Trump Jr. and Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk from jumping on the machine issue to spread mistrust in an already contentious election cycle.

“The secure Door 3 option has been a decades-long practice in Maricopa County. Despite this being a legal, secure, and reliable voting option, many high profile and influential individuals instructed voters to not deposit their ballots in Door 3 (Exhibit: #DOOR 3). Consequently, some voters refused to use this viable voting option,” read the Sunday report. Specifically, 206 voters checked-in at one location and then cast a ballot in another—193 of which were confirmed to have changed polling stations after a ballot machine issue and had their vote counted.

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What caused the glitch?

Though “root cause analysis” is still ongoing, the Maricopa County Elections Department noted a couple different things appeared to contribute to the ballot read issue. The main issue was that some new model and retrofitted printers were producing ballots that couldn’t be read by the tabulating machines, even under the previously approved settings. Basically: the printers were producing ballots that were too light.

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The authority reported no other problems with the ballot readers or the printers. However, some ballots were rejected by tabulation machines because of how they were marked. Ballpoint pen or thin markings instead of filled-in ovals caused about 1,600 of the ballot issues.

On Election Day, officials found that a small adjustment in the printers’ fuser settings resolved the problem. Of the county’s 223 Vote Centers, 43 are confirmed to have experienced the printer issue, and technicians visited 71 different sites to fix the printer settings—in many cases pre-emptively before any difficulties arose.

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“Once identified, we began guiding poll workers to make this change over the phone and dispatching technicians to make changes at the sites with reported issues. The changes had to be completed onsite at the Vote Center and could not be made remotely. We also asked technicians to proactively make these changes at other sites that had not yet reported an issue. By mid-afternoon, most sites were no longer experiencing the printer issue,” wrote the Elections Department.

The political context

Maricopa County, and Arizona as a whole, were battlegrounds in the midterms. The state faced some deeply divisive races, and became decisive in determining the balance of the Senate.

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Even before the day of the general election, there were issues at the jurisdiction’s polling sites. A District Court Judge issued a restraining order against poll watchers from one right-wing watchdog group who were showing up to early voting locations armed, and intimidating voters. In the days following the election, Maricopa County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman was forced into hiding following safety concerns and threats.

Though she lost by about 17,000 votes, according to the Associated Press, GOP gubernatorial candidate and prominent 2020 election denier Kari Lake has still refused to concede.

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Sunday’s report follows a weeklong inquiry, spurred by a request from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. In that request, assistant attorney general Jennifer Wright questioned the legality of the election given a federal requirement for “uniform” process, voters changing polling locations after checking in, and that ballots were moved to the central counting location. However, Thomas Liddy, a Republican and head of Maricopa County’s civil division, addressed and refuted the claims of illegal “non-uniformity,” and all other alleged violations in a letter accompanying the report. 

“Every lawful voter was still able to cast his or her ballot. No voter was disenfranchised because of the difficulty the County experienced with some of its printers. Every voter was provided a ballot by which he or she could record their votes, and all such ballots cast by lawful voters were tabulated, whether in the vote center or at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center,” Liddy wrote. “The printing issues, leading to precinct-based tabulators being unable to tabulate some of the votes cast, was regrettable. But it did not violate the uniformity statutes, and any suggestion that it did is unfounded,” he added.

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The report came just a day before the deadline for certifying election results. Nearly all jurisdictions across the country have now voted to certify their results for the 2022 midterm elections, but multiple Arizona counties haven’t, and at least one Republican-controlled county will delay their decision further.