PHOENIX (AP) — A printing malfunction at 60 polling places across Arizona's most populous county slowed down voting Tuesday, but election officials assured voters that every ballot would be counted.
Still, the issue gave rise to conspiracy theories about the integrity of the vote in the pivotal state. Former President Donald Trump, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and others weighed in to claim that Democrats were trying to subvert the vote of Republicans, who tend to show up in greater numbers in person on Election Day.
Lake and several other candidates on the Arizona ballot have pushed false claims about the 2020 presidential race, amplifying Trump's lies about a stolen election. But election officials from both political parties and members of Trump's own Cabinet have said there was no widespread voter fraud and that Trump lost reelection to Democrat Joe Biden.
The Republican National Committee, along with the campaigns of Lake and Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, filed an emergency motion to extend voting hours in Maricopa County.
“We have dozens of attorneys and thousands of volunteers on the ground working to solve this issue and ensure that Arizona voters have the chance to make their voices heard,” the RNC chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, said in a statement.
Equipment malfunctions such as these are typical in every election, and officials have plans in place to ensure voting continues and all eligible ballots are counted.
At issue were printers that were not producing dark enough markings on the ballots, which required election officials to change the printer settings. Until then, some voters who tried to insert their ballots into voting tabulators were forced to wait and use other machines or were told they could leave their ballots in a drop box. Those votes were expected to be counted Wednesday.
Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said he was sorry for the inconvenience.
"Every legal vote will be tabulated. I promise,” he said.
The issue affected about 25% of voting centers in Maricopa County, which includes metropolitan Phoenix. It was not immediately clear how many ballots were affected.
When voters in the country check in, they are handed a ballot for their specific election precinct; the races for which they can vote are printed for them. That process allows voters to go to any voting location in the county. The voters then fill out the ballot and put it into a tabulation machine to be counted.
Some of the tabulators at 60 voting sites did not read the ballots because the printers did not produce what are known as “timing marks” dark enough to be read by the machines. Voters who had their ballots rejected were told they could try the location’s second tabulator, put it in a ballot box to be counted at the central facility later or cancel it and go to another vote center.
The majority of Arizona counties do not count ballots at polling places. Officials bring the ballots to a central facility for counting. The ballots that were left in the drop boxes will be counted at that central site.
The problem slowed down voting in both traditionally Democratic and Republican areas, especially at an outlet mall in conservative far-flung Anthem. Some voters there reported waiting several hours to be able to vote with the only one of two tabulators working.
Arizona law allows anyone still in line when the polls close to vote.
By midday, nearly half of the 232 voting centers countywide reported no wait at all, and 210 of the centers reported a wait of a half hour or less. The Anthem location had a wait of about an hour.
At a polling place on the other side of the county, Phoenix voter Maggie Perini said she was able to vote without problem, but that a man next her in line struggled with his ballot at a different tabulator. When he switched to the machine she had used, the ballot went through.
“And then I know one woman who was coming out, she tried like four or five times for it to work and it wasn’t working,” said Perini. “And someone had told her she could leave her ballot and she’s like, No, no, no, no, no.”
Voter Michael McCuarrie said his ballot wasn’t read so he dropped it off to be counted later.
“Fine as long as the vote is counted,” said McCuarrie. “I don’t mind.”
Lake told reporters after she cast her ballot midday that she was “embarrassed for Arizona.”
“My advice is to stay in line. Don’t let this craziness stop you,” Lake said.