Automatic vote-counting machines went down Tuesday morning at some 20 percent of polling places in Maricopa County, Arizona, a locale that has become a hotspot for far-right conspiracy theorists—ex-President Donald Trump among them—looking to “prove” fantastical allegations of electoral fraud.
However, the truth-bending claims perpetuated during the first several hours of voting fell flat when the issue was fixed by adjusting the printer settings on affected vote tabulators at about 40 voting centers.
Shortly after the technical problem was first reported, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said at a press conference that there is a “redundancy in place” for anyone who can’t run their ballot through the tabulator: “Just slip your ballot into the secure box directory below the tabulator to be verified and counted later.”
The glitch also was limited in its scope, and didn’t appear to be coordinated.
“It’s not like both of the tabulators in this 20 percent of locations are having these issues,” Gates assured voters. “It may be one out of five, two out of five.”
Tabulation equipment in Maricopa is tested in advance, and bipartisan teams appointed and overseen by both political parties then hand-count the machines’ results to further verify them. In the 2020 elections, as well as the recent August primary, Maricopa had a 100 percent match, according to Gates.
Appearing beside Gates, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a lifelong Republican who has received death threats from Trump supporters for rejecting the idea of widespread tampering in the 2020 presidential election, added, “This is actually what the majority of Arizona counties do on Election Day, all the time.”
“When you have 8,800 individual election jurisdictions, you're going to see a few issues arise,” a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said in response. “We’ve seen a few of these today, as happens on every Election Day. None of this is out of the ordinary… We know in this environment, normal technical challenges can sometimes be misinterpreted to mean malicious activity. We have seen no indications to date that this is the case.”
C. Murphy Hebert, director of communications for Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs—who is running for governor on the Democratic ticket—told The Daily Beast, “The thing that I would stress right now at this juncture, because there will be an effort to utilize this [tabulating machine issue] as misinformation, is that every ballot will be counted. Even if [voters] are in an area where there is an issue with a tabulator, that ballot will be counted. So they can rest assured that their voice will be heard, and attempts to undermine that… are just really disappointing and counterproductive. I have some other words for it too, but they’re probably not fit for print.”
In an email, Richer spokesman Justin Heywood said voters still had “a number of options to choose from” if the tabulators aren’t working or if there are long lines where they are. As Gates explained, any registered voter in Maricopa can go to any of the county’s 223 voting centers to cast their ballot.
The tabulator problems in Maricopa were just normal hiccups inherent in any large-scale public undertaking, according to early reports.
“Yall- the printer/toner was out on one machine,” one voter in East Mesa said on social media. “Someone was fixing it. They have 2- so it was just slow. It took 2 hrs to vote, but I voted!”
“Password entered too many times so built-in security measures locked the machine,” Maricopa County officials said in a tweet about a tabulator in Phoenix. “Addressing as we speak.”
Attorney Harmeet Dhillon, co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association and former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party, implored GOP voters to trust the system.
“Arizona voters—please be aware that there are dozens of Republican lawyers monitoring the tabulating situation in Maricopa County (and all AZ Counties), speaking with the county lawyers, and ensuring that votes WILL count,” she tweeted. “Please do your part and VOTE! We have your back!”
However, the steady thrum of mis- and disinformation being peddled by conspiracy theorists and far-right pols as part and parcel of Donald Trump’s lies about his re-election loss to Joe Biden in 2020, ignore the fact that U.S. elections, which are decentralized by design, are nearly impossible to manipulate at the ballot box level.
Trump himself took to his flailing Twitter clone, Truth Social, to undermine faith in Maricopa’s results, where the polls opened at 6 a.m. local time, before the results are even in.
“Reports are coming in from Arizona that the Voting Machines are not properly working in predominantly Republican/Conservative areas,” Trump posted. “Can this possibly be true when a vast majority of Republicans waited for today to Vote? Here we go again? The people will not stand for it!!!”
He followed up a little over an hour later with an updated spin on the bogus claim that he was cheated out of a second term, posting, “Same thing is happening with Voter Fraud as happened in 2020???”
On Twitter, where Trump remains banned for using the platform to incite violence around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the Trump-adjacent had their (similar) say.
“Democracy Dies in Maricopa County,” tweeted alt-right political operative Benny Johnson, the 36-year-old chief creative officer for conservative campus group Turning Point USA.
On Steve Bannon's “War Room” webcast Tuesday morning, guests almost immediately seized on the snafu.
“In Maricopa—we have teams there—there is up to 50 percent of the ballots… getting rejected with the machines,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell claimed, without offering any evidence. “The big crime story of the year.”
Kari Lake, a former Phoenix newscaster and Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor, took to social media to falsely warn people that their votes “likely will not count” if they leave to go to another polling place.
“Their attitude seems to be ‘Of course, we’re cheating. We have no choice, because we know losing means retribution. And, that’s one thing we just can't have,’” someone replied.
Later, it would emerge that the tabulator malfunctions were not the work of liberal saboteurs, but the machines’ printer settings. According to a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by the Maricopa County 2022 Elections Command Center, “some of the printers were not producing dark enough timing marks on the ballots.”
“County technicians have changed the printer settings, which seems to have resolved this issue,” the statement said, adding that the “solution has worked at 17 locations, and technicians deployed throughout the county are working to resolve this issue at the remaining locations.”
Some commentators also floated tales of endless waits at voting sites, which largely turned out not to be the case.
“MASSIVE lines in Maricopa County[.] People saying they’ve never seen anything like this[,]” tweeted Jack Posobiec, who the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “political operative and internet performer of the anti-democracy hard right, known primarily for creating and amplifying viral disinformation campaigns.”
But while one voting center showed a wait time of about 45 minutes, by mid-morning, many polling places, according to a tracker on the Maricopa County Elections Department website, had no wait times at all to vote.
In Phoenix, one location had three people in line with an estimated wait of two minutes. Another had seven people in line with an estimated wait of three minutes.
A voting center in a different part of town showed 70 people in line waiting to vote, with a 25-minute wait time, according to the site.
Christina Baal-Owens, executive director of Public Wise, a Washington D.C.-based voting rights nonprofit, is on the ground in Phoenix supporting two of the organization’s partner groups, which are conducting outreach to voters of color.
Things there feel “pretty calm,” Baal-Owens told The Daily Beast on Tuesday afternoon, although while door-knocking on behalf of Democratic candidates, she said she has noticed “way fewer lawn signs,” and got “a sense [that] people are afraid to identify who they voted for.”
Misinformation, as it so often does, spread rapidly on Tuesday, with more than 40,000 tweets on the tabulating machine snafu over the course of two hours, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, a research collective overseen by the Stanford Internet Observatory and the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public.
“Attention spiked after a tweet from Charlie Kirk, which fueled others who allege that these machine failures are deliberate,” the organization said.
Maricopa County has been the de facto epicenter of election denial since Donald Trump cast doubt—which has been thoroughly debunked—on the 2020 election results there months after Joe Biden took office.
“The entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona has been DELETED!” Trump posted to his personal website in May 2021.
Richer, the Maricopa County recorder, later wrote an open letter to his fellow Republicans, insisting, “Nobody stole Maricopa County’s election. “Elections in Maricopa County aren’t rigged.”
After early voting began on Oct. 12, election deniers descended on Arizona to stake out drop boxes around the county in a vigilante-style attempt to prevent what has turned out to be nonexistent fraud.
Many of the box-watchers in Maricopa have been linked to Clean Elections USA, a group run by minister and conspiracy theorist Melody Jennings. She has mobilized teams of people to monitor drop boxes around Maricopa, with a good number clad in tactical gear and body armor. Some, according to complaints received by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office and shared with The Daily Beast, have been armed.
Because of the failsafes and security features baked into the system, the efforts have been—as Richer previously told The Daily Beast, “ludicrous,” “preposterous,” and “stupid,” not to mention “ridiculous.”
—With additional reporting by Zachary Petrizzo