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Arizona's Maricopa County says it's identified a solution for voting equipment issues

Gates, chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, speaks about voting machine malfunctions at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Tuesday in Phoenix, Ariz.
John Moore
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Gates, chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, speaks about voting machine malfunctions at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Tuesday in Phoenix, Ariz.

Updated November 8, 2022 at 4:43 PM ET

Follow live updates and results from the 2022 midterm election here.

About 1 in 5 polling locations in Maricopa County, Ariz., were experiencing a technical problem with their ballot tabulator machines in the first hours of Election Day — but officials assured voters their ballots would still be counted, thanks to redundancy protocols.

"We've got about 20% of the locations out there where there's an issue with the tabulator," Maricopa Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Gates, a Republican, said in a video posted online. Describing the problem, he said that after some voters filled out their ballot, the machine wouldn't accept it.

In the meantime, voters could slide their ballot into a "secure box" just below the tabulator, Gates said. Those ballots would be collected and sent to Maricopa's "central tabulators," County Recorder Stephen Richer said.

"This is actually what the majority of Arizona counties do on Election Day all the time," Richer added.

Around mid-afternoon local time, the county said that it had "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."

Fuel for baseless right-wing claims

The issues with the tabulators were quickly used by right-leaning influencers as fuel for their claims that the 2022 midterms are vulnerable to election fraud, according to the Election Integrity Partnership, a research coalition that focuses on misinformation around elections.

"Attention spiked after a tweet from Charlie Kirk, which fueled others who allege that these machine failures are deliberate," the research group said.

"There is high likelihood that these narratives around machine malfunctions will gain traction in other states," the Election Integrity Partnership said, adding that influencers and their audiences are looking to amplify such stories.

It's not uncommon for machine malfunctions and other balloting problems to arise at election time, when millions of people rush to cast their votes.

Such snags can prompt a range of reactions from politicians and pundits, from encouraging voters to endure the delay to suggesting the problems are the sign of a coordinated conspiracy.

Far-right figures from Arizona senatorial candidate Blake Masters to Republican National Committee member Tyler Bowyer tweeted about the problem Tuesday. Former President Donald Trump — who has spent the past two years sowing doubts and mistruths about the U.S. election system — also weighed in, saying that in Maricopa, problems were reported in GOP-leaning areas.

"Here we go again?" Trump said on the Truth Social platform. "The people will not stand for it!!!"

"Hard to know if we're seeing incompetence or something worse," Masters wrote. "All we know right now is that the Democrats are hoping you will get discouraged and go home."

The issue has also been front-and-center in the governor's race: Republican Kari Lake is an election denier who is running against Democrat Katie Hobbs (the current secretary of state).

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.