Problems in Maricopa County Election Linked to Changes in Ballot Paper
Problems in Maricopa County Election Linked to Changes in Ballot Paper

By Jack Phillips

Problems with ballot printers that caused lines to back up at some Phoenix-area polling places last year were due to changes to the paper, a retired Arizona Supreme Court justice concluded in a report released Monday. However, GOP candidate Kari Lake dismissed that report.

County officials used longer ballots on thicker paper than had been used previously and pushed the printers to the edge of their capabilities, former Justice Ruth McGregor wrote. She said that pre-election testing may not have caught the problem because the test didn’t properly mimic the stresses that printers experience on Election Day.

“Nothing we learned in our interviews or document reviews gave any clear indication that the problems should have been anticipated,” McGregor wrote in the report (pdf).

Republican Kari Lake has argued in court papers that widespread printer problems across Maricopa County polling places were one reason for her defeat during last year’s midterm elections. In response to Monday’s report, Lake’s campaign Twitter account said it was “a farce.”

“Maricopa County has released the results of their internal investigation & has SHOCKINGLY found themselves not guilty of any crime,” Lake’s Twitter post said. “We told you this was a farce. These people don’t think your vote or your opinion matters. And anyone who takes the results of this ‘investigation’ seriously is part of the problem.”

Over the past several months, Maricopa’s investigative team printed and tabulated about 9,000 ballots in an attempt to repeat the process to figure out the errors with the printers. The printer problem was flagged by top Maricopa County election officials on Election Day, which Lake and other Republicans say disenfranchised their voters.

But McGregor’s report said that human error was not to blame. Instead, it was the equipment.

“One of the most striking findings in our tests involved the considerable differences among printers. At the extremes, one printer (printer 406), printed 850 ballots at all settings with only one misread ballot. Printer 491 did almost as well, with only 13 misread ballots. In contrast, printer 404 produced 92 misread ballots and printer 323 produced 72,” it said.

For some printers, the fuser failed to consistently maintain the proper temperature to bond toner to the paper, resulting in ballots that could not be read by precinct-based tabulators. On Election Day, thousands of ballots from problematic printers were counted on more sophisticated scanners at the county’s election headquarters in downtown Phoenix.

The ballot length was increased from 19 inches to 20 and the paper thickness was increased after some voters in 2020 complained that the Sharpie brand markers used in polling places caused ink to bleed from one side of the paper to the other. The issue does not affect the ballot count, but claims that it was evidence of fraud were widespread among supporters of former President Donald Trump, who narrowly lost in Arizona that year.

In McGregor’s tests, thicker paper led to higher failure rates, and adding an extra inch to the ballot length further increased the problems, according to the report.

“I pushed for an outside investigation as soon as this happened, and I appreciate Justice McGregor and her team’s thorough, professional, and independent review,” said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman in a news release. “We don’t grade our own homework and now that we have a better idea of the factors involved, we’ll make changes to best serve voters, starting with replacing some equipment.”

Lake’s Plans

Earlier this week, Lake—a former local television anchor—responded to speculation that she could be readying a bid for statewide office, possibly the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.). Sinema has not officially announced whether she will run for reelection in 2024, but reports indicate that she has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

“People keep asking me about my future. But I am laser-focused on seeing my court case through to the end. That’s my present. As for the future? I can promise you that I’m not stepping out of the political arena anytime soon. Not until I put the people of Arizona First,” she wrote on Twitter.

In a recent interview with OANN, Lake said that she is strongly considering running for Sinema’s seat. The race could be unusual as Sinema recently left the Democratic Party to become an independent, while at least one prominent Democrat, Rep. Reuben Gallego (D-Ariz.), announced he’s running for the position.

A portion of her election-related lawsuit is currently being heard by the Arizona Supreme Court, which rejected a number of claims her lawyers made but kept Lake’s challenge to Marciopa’s signature verification process alive.

Runbeck Election Services was contacted for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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