Update: The Maricopa County Elections Department announced this afternoon that it found a solution to the ballot tabulator issue. The department stated the issue was likely caused by ballot printers that “were not producing dark enough timing marks on the ballots.” Changing the settings on printers resolved the issue at 17 of the approximately affected 60 vote centers as of 2:05 p.m. and technicians are implementing the fix at the remaining centers, according to the department.
Some ballot tabulators at dozens of polling locations across Maricopa County aren’t working, but elections officials assured the public that they have procedures in place to ensure that every vote is counted.
At a press conference this morning, Maricopa County Supervisor Bill Gates said that ballot tabulators at “about 20%” of the county’s 223 voting centers were not reading all ballots.
“When people will go and they try and run the ballot through this tabulator, maybe one out of every five or so of those ballots, they’re not going through – but this is something we’ve prepared for,” Gates said.
Gates and Maricopa County Supervisor Stephen Richer said the county has redundancies in place to make sure all voters will have their ballots counted.
If a tabulator is not working, they said voters have the option of placing their ballot in a secure ballot box, also called “box three.” At the end of voting tonight, those ballots will be brought by a bipartisan team of election workers to the county’s central voting center to be tabulated.
“And while this is obviously not how the system was designed, this is a failsafe that functions the exact same way as early voting, which you know, we have been going through for the past 26 days,” Richer said.
Ballots placed in “box three” will be tabulated on Wednesday morning, according to the Maricopa County Elections Department.
Richer said most other counties in Arizona currently tabulate votes at a central vote center, not at the polling sites.
However, if voters don’t feel comfortable placing their ballot in the secure box, they have other options. They can also wait at their current voting location for the tabulator to come online or spoil that ballot and cast their votes at another voting location with working tabulators, Richer said.
Maricopa County employs a voting center model, meaning voters can visit any of the county’s 223 voting locations to cast their ballot.
The Election Day issues in Maricopa County are already spawning criticism from Republican politicians.
“It is a total disaster,” Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward said on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast before urging voters not to put ballots in box three.
“So my advice is do not put your ballot, your precious vote, your voice, into a so-called secure box in Maricopa County unless that is the only thing you can do to make sure you cast a vote,” Ward said.
However, election experts and former election officials said they have no concerns with the procedures Maricopa County has in place to deal with the tabulation issues.
“The thing that I think is important for Arizonans to remember is that the majority of ballots in Arizona are actually counted back at the central tabulation facility…because the majority of Arizonans vote by mail or vote early,” said Tammy Patrick, a former federal compliance officer for the Maricopa County Elections Department. “So it’s not the case that those ballots won’t be counted or that they won’t be counted accurately.”
Former Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell, who held the post for nearly 30 years, said she is “absolutely” confident that there are enough redundancies in place to ensure that every vote is counted.
She said Election Day issues are common.
“It’s very common in an election,” Purcell said. “That’s the reason that Maricopa County has for some years had troubleshooters out in the field…and they are prepared to deal with whatever might come up in in any one of those polling places.”
Patrick, now a senior advisor for the Democracy Fund, agreed.
“I will say that in all the dozens and dozens of elections that I participated in in Arizona, I would probably be hard pressed to find an election where there wasn’t an issue that arose somewhere, somehow,” she said.
Still, Purcell said it’s understandable that voters want to know what procedures are in place to make sure their vote is counted.
“That’s (the) reason, like I said, we have those troubleshooters out there where they have equipment with them that they can substitute if that’s what they need to do, or we’ve had the instance where we have advised voters to put their ballots in door number three,” she said.
Despite reassurances from the county and elections officials, some are worried that the tabulator issue will spawn the next wave of election-related conspiracy theories that have seemingly flowed nonstop since the 2020 General Election.
“Here’s what we have to understand in this moment – and I’ve been pre-bunking for months now – is that any issue that comes up is going to be leveraged, twisted, turned into some sort of a cudgel to decry the legitimacy of an election, and it couldn’t be further from the truth,” Patrick said.
Richer, too, expressed that concern.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing and, yes, undoubtedly, some people will exploit it for that purpose,” he said. “We will continue to do what we’ve done the last two years, which is just offer correct information, offer accurate information.”