2022 Election: Solution to voting machine problems found, Maricopa County claims

Maricopa County officials say they have identified a solution after about 20% of their polling sites were experiencing issues with tabulation machines across the Valley on Election Day.

"Maricopa County has identified the solution for the tabulation issues at about 60 Vote Centers. County technicians have changed the printer settings, which seems to have resolved this issue. It appears some of the printers were not producing dark enough timing marks on the ballots. This solution has worked at 17 locations, and technicians deployed throughout the county are working to resolve this issue at the remaining locations," the county said in a statement.

Eventually, officials said the issue was resolved in at least 55 of the 60 centers that were affected by the end of Election Day. 

The issue affected about 17,000 ballots in the county. About 4.5 million people live in the sprawling city and about 2.4 million are registered voters. More than 80% cast their ballots early, most by mail, and the county said about 230,000 had voted in-person about an hour before polls closed.

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.

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.

When voters in the county 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 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.

Officials changed the printer settings to address the problem.

Election officials have a variety of tools, including a different type of scanner, for accurately reading the lightly inked marks, said Eddie Perez, an election technology specialist with OSET Institute, an election security and integrity nonprofit organization. He was confident the ballots would be accurately processed.

After polls closed, the county supervisor, Republican Bill Gates, apologized and said "every voter had the opportunity to vote and have their vote counted."

The cause remains a mystery. The two top officials on the county board of supervisors, both Republicans, said in a statement Wednesday night that they used the same printers, settings and paper thickness during the August primary and pre-election testing, when there were no widespread issues.

"There is no perfect election. Yesterday was not a perfect election," said Bill Gates, chairman of the board of supervisors, told reporters earlier in the day. "We will learn from it and do better."

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 in Maricopa County will be counted at their central site, where far-right groups called for a protest.

Voters had three options if they were at a location experiencing problems:

  • Stay where you are and wait for the tabulator to come online
  • Leave the ballot in a locked box to be counted at the end of the day
  • "Spoil" their ballot and go to a different, working polling location instead

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.

File an election complaint here: https://www.azag.gov/complaints/election

Submit voting incidents here: https://azsos.gov/webform/voting-incident

County recorder Stephen Richer's full statement on voting machine problems:

"I am very sorry for any voter who has been frustrated or inconvenienced today in Maricopa County.

Every legal vote will be tabulated. I promise.

State statute has long governed the division of labor in Arizona election administration. Broadly speaking, the County Recorder is responsible for voter registration and early voting. The Board of Supervisors is responsible for Emergency Voting, Election Day operations, and tabulation.

Since becoming Recorder in 2021, I have worked hard to improve voter registration and Early Voting, while also supporting the Board’s administration of Election Day operations and tabulation, as well as bolstering communications about elections holistically.

I will continue to do that today, and through the conclusion of this election. And I will continue to assist voters in any way I can.

The Board of Supervisors has now identified the problem and has begun fixing affected voting locations.

The Board of Supervisor is also advising all affected voters to do one of the following:

  • Place the ballot in "drawer 3."  This secure ballot box is retrieved by bipartisan workers at the end of the evening and brought to our central tabulators.  This is the same methodology used for early voting, and it is the same methodology used on Election Day by most counties (including Pima County and Yavapai County)
  • Go to a different voting location. There are 223 voting locations, and the significant majority of them are unaffected. If you have already checked in, but want to cast your ballot at another site, you must first check out with a poll worker at the SiteBook to return the issued ballot. Then you will be able to vote at any of our locations. All locations can be found at Locations.Maricopa.Vote

As has always been the case, every valid vote will be counted.

And has always been the case, I remain committed to helping in any way I can."