Arizona Edition

Vote machine glitch roils Arizona’s Maricopa County and fuels false statements

PHOENIX — Maricopa County has emerged as a flashpoint in the midterm elections after a state judge refused a last-minute effort to extend polling hours after widespread problems that led officials to use secure ballot boxes.

On Election Day, technicians were dispatched to polling stations in Arizona’s largest counties to repair dozens of malfunctioning vote tally machines. The issue is widespread, frustrating voters and causing some Republican politicians and pundits to spread misleading and false information.

Election officials stressed that the machines were not reading ballots incorrectly, but that they were not accepting ballots at all.

Maricopa County election officials initially classified the issue as a “problem,” but it took hours before a solution was identified early Tuesday afternoon. The day’s fallout forced officials to scramble to exchange messages and push back against claims that sought to question the integrity of the election.

Maricopa County Oversight Board Chairman and Republican Bill Gates told reporters Tuesday morning in downtown Phoenix after reports of equipment trouble that everyone still has a vote. have not been deprived of

“It’s part of the process when we test these machines. We go through it every election,” he added. “And in this particular instance, this was something we didn’t expect.”

About 60 of the county’s 223 polling places reported related problems. Gates said techs are “doing everything they can to get these things back online.”

The Republican National Committee submitted an urgent request for an extension of polling time just before state polls closed at 9 p.m. Judge Timothy Ryan, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2005, dismissed the charge, saying Republicans failed to show that someone was in fact prevented from voting.

Ryan said there “may have been confusion,” but there was no evidence that anyone was “barred from voting.” He added that even if there was such evidence, there would be “no way to get in touch” with polling stations given the late hours of the polls.

Matthew Sanderson, co-leader of the political law group at law firm Caplin & Drysdale, said in an email that these are common problems.

“Some tallying machines in Maricopa County, Arizona were out of order, and some right-wing pundits tried to paint it as part of a sinister conspiracy,” Sanderson said. A Republican election law analyst for NBC News and MSNBC wrote: “But the reality is that equipment failure is always part of Election Day, and Maricopa election officials had contingency plans in place to ensure voters could cast their ballots without interruption.”

Sanderson said the judge’s decision was “consistent with past rulings by courts in Arizona that have historically been reluctant to extend polling hours.”

“The judge’s case appears to have focused on Republicans’ delay in filing their indictment until late on Election Day and voters’ ability to vote by alternative means,” he added.

Maricopa County, the fourth largest county in the nation, which includes the cities of Phoenix and Tempe, is widely considered key to the Arizona election. Most state ballots are cast there, and the results usually match the statewide results.

A tribunal will review ballots Tuesday at the Maricopa County Counting and Election Center in Phoenix.John Moore/Getty Images

In 2020, Joe Biden won by about 6,000 votes out of more than 2 million votes cast in Maricopa County. Statewide, he won by less than 12,000 votes out of more than 3.3 million votes cast.

A similar dynamic continued in the midterm elections. When Democratic Senator Kirsten Cinema won the seat in 2018, she won 50% of the statewide vote, including 51% in Maricopa County. About 2.4 million people voted statewide in the election, 1.4 million of which were cast in Maricopa.

Election officials urged voters at polling stations where the machines were out of order to exercise other options, including placing their ballots in secure boxes to be counted at a later date or going to another location to vote.

At around 2:30 p.m. local time, authorities announced they had discovered that the problem could apparently be fixed by changing the machine’s printer settings.

Asked if technical issues were fueling more mistrust of the electoral system, Gates told NBC News that Maricopa County voters have a choice of how to vote in these circumstances. That is why we should have confidence in the electoral process, he said.

“We have a problem,” Gates added. “Last night they had a problem with the Powerball lottery. I know these things happen all the time, but I want to say to them, actually, this should make them feel better because they Because we understand the kind of redundancy we’re introducing.”

But conservative commentators on social media used the failure to claim that votes were being suppressed.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative youth activist group Turning Point USA, tweeted that long lines formed at the venue, resulting in a “planned traffic jam.”

Maricopa County election officials responded by saying the tweet was inaccurate and that “every voter is being served.”

Former President Donald Trump also captured the situation, writing on his account for Truth Social that Arizona had “another major voter counting problem” and that Maricopa County had “voter integrity completely at stake.” I am,” he wrote. President Trump endorsed Kari Lake over Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs for Arizona governor.

Meanwhile, the word “cheating” trended on Twitter Tuesday morning, based on a video in Anthem, Arizona, in which election officials told a crowd that two vote-counters were cheating. There was also an account that amplified the burgeoning right-wing conspiracy theory. It is not working.

Election officials direct the crowd to place their ballots in “Box 3,” where they are either counted manually or fed into a counting machine later. This is a common practice for counting ballots if the tallying machine fails.

Each tally machine has various “doors” through which ballots are inserted and read. However, if the ballot cannot be properly scanned, it can be fed into “Door 3” of the tabulator for later reading. (Some people confuse “door 3” with the term “box 3”.)

Several prominent Republican Twitter accounts also shared the video, including Lake and Arizona Republican Commissioner Kerry Ward, who urged voters to “Don’t put your ballot in Box 3.” Tweeted an image containing the text.both lake and Ward challenged the results of the 2020 election.

Right-wing audiences have been misinformed about the Arizona election. In recent weeks, conservative media pundits and influencers have paid disproportionate attention to the election there.

Kirk and conservative podcast host Jack Posovietz co-hosted Kirk’s web series Tuesday from their home state of Arizona, and met with Lake the night before.

Former journalist and conservative pundit Benny Johnson was also on the scene in Arizona, amplifying the polling station problem with exaggerated posts that misrepresented the issue on the counting machine. Former President Trump’s chief political adviser Steve Bannon spent much of his internet show “War Room” interviewing local correspondents, Republican advisers and candidates.

According to the Times, labeling equipment failures and administrative errors as intentional is a common practice among those who spread misinformation during elections. electoral integrity partnership, a coalition of researchers studying misinformation and elections. “The tactics that facilitate this spread are often designed to encourage engagement and are difficult to curb,” the group wrote. October report.

Ally Rafa reported from Phoenix, with Eric Ortiz, Jonathan Allen and Brandi Zadrozny reporting from New York.

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