Maricopa County election machine issues spark failed GOP lawsuit, conspiracy theories
Trouble with tabulation machines at 20% of the polling centers in Arizona’s Maricopa County generated criticism on social media, but a spokesperson for the state’s elections department said the problem was minor.
Arizona’s high-stakes elections were hit with technical issues in Phoenix’s Maricopa County on Tuesday, sparking a Republican lawsuit and a wave of criticism, rumors and misinformation.
County officials announced Tuesday morning that ballot counting machines were malfunctioning in 20% of the 223 vote centers across the county, confirming reports that quickly spread on social media and prompting former President Trump to make unfounded allegations of a stolen election on his Truth Social platform.
Officials in Arizona — particularly in Maricopa, where top election officials are Republicans — were under great pressure to ensure a smooth and safe experience for voters. Supporters of Trump held armed protests in Maricopa County in 2020, after Joe Biden narrowly became the first Democrat to win a presidential contest there in more than 20 years.
This year, four of the top statewide candidates have been endorsed by Trump and have echoed his false and unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen due to widespread voter fraud.
Gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake has heavily criticized election administration under Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, calling on her Democratic opponent for governor to recuse herself from overseeing their contest.
After casting her ballot at a polling place in downtown Phoenix, Lake said she would overhaul the state’s elections if she wins.
“This is incompetency, I hope it’s not malice,” she told reporters. “We’re going to fix it, we’re going to win. And when we win there’s going to be a come to Jesus for elections.”
Despite pushes by conspiracy theorists and far-right groups to discredit the electoral process, Arizona election officials have expressed optimism and pride in the work they’ve done leading up to Tuesday.
Trump released a video message to Arizona voters and made several posts on Truth Social on Tuesday afternoon, alleging that the situation in Maricopa County was a “complete Voter Integrity DISASTER.”
“People of Arizona: Don’t get out of line until you cast your vote,” Trump wrote. “They are trying to steal the election with bad Machines and DELAY. Don’t let it happen!”
Several conservative personalities, including some of those who stumped with Lake in the days leading up to the election, posted invectives about Maricopa County election officials on social media.
The Lake campaign, Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters and the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit Tuesday afternoon to extend voting hours in Arizona by three hours to 10 p.m. local time to make up for the tabulator issues. Republicans made up the majority of in-person voter turnout Tuesday.
“The widespread issues — in an election administered by Democrat Secretary of State Katie Hobbs — are completely unacceptable, especially as Republicans flock to the polls to vote in-person on Election Day,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a written statement. “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.”
A Maricopa County Superior Court judge denied the emergency request around the time polls closed at 7 p.m.
Lake and other Republicans have also been critical of how long it takes to count votes. For decades, Arizona has allowed voters to request absentee ballots, which must be returned by the time polls close on election day. Election officials have said that it could be 10 to 15 days before every ballot is counted, and it could take a few days to determine the winner in a close contest.
Early results Wednesday, with 97% of Arizona precincts reporting, showed Hobbs with a razor-thin lead, which was tightening even further as the morning progressed. Hobbs had 50.3% of the vote compared with Lake’s 49.7%. Hobbs is leading by just 11,000 votes.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly was also ahead of Masters, 51.4% to 46.4%, with Libertarian candidate Marc J. Victor earning about 2% of the vote. Despite the early leads for Democrats, the races are expected to narrow as more Republican-leaning, in-person votes are counted.
Officials said no voters had been disenfranchised. Ballots that could not be scanned were placed in secure bins inside tabulating machines and will be delivered by bipartisan teams to the county’s central elections office, said Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Gates said that the printing issue was a surprise and that the county plans to do a “deep dive” into why the issue wasn’t caught during testing.
After polls closed in Arizona, Gates was asked at a news conference about election deniers pledging to come to the state.
“We know that the eyeballs of the world were already on Maricopa County, we’ve known that for weeks,” Gates said. “Whoever wants to come here can come, that’s fine, they have every right to be here. But again, there’s nothing that happened here today that would indicate, in my opinion, a need to be out here, a need to address some injustice.”
Gates also commented on the increased law enforcement presence at the county election center.
“Unfortunately in 2020 we saw folks come here and get very close to the building, getting a little raucous,” he said. “We have no specific reasons to think that there will be problems down here this evening, but we want to make sure everything is protected.”
Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.
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