Nov 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Maricopa County judge rejects Republicans' request to extend poll hours

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates stand in front of microphones while reading from a piece of paper

Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates speaks to reporters on Nov. 8 at the county elections center about problems that caused tabulators at about 60 voting centers to reject voters' ballots. Photo: Jeremy Duda/Axios

A Maricopa County, Arizona, judge rejected a request by Republican organizations and candidates to extend voting by three hours in response to widespread problems with tabulation machines rejecting ballots due to printer problems.

  • The RNC and other plaintiffs wanted polling places in the county to stay open until 10pm instead of closing at 7.
  • Judge Timothy Ryan said he'd seen no evidence that any voters were denied their right to cast ballots.

Driving the news: Maricopa County officials say printer settings caused tabulation machines to reject ballots at about a quarter of all voting centers Tuesday.

  • They announced in a press release around 2pm, eight hours after the polls opened, that they'd discovered the problem and that technicians were correcting it.
  • The county doesn't know how many ballots were affected, but they will all still be counted.

The latest: The Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee and Arizona GOP candidates Kari Lake (governor) and Blake Masters (U.S. Senate) filed the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon in response to the tabulation issue.

What happened: Tabulation machines at about 60 voting centers across the Phoenix metro area rejected ballots that were printed onsite because markings that the tabulators use to read ballots were too light.

  • The printer settings were the same ones used during the August primary election, when there were no problems with tabulators reading ballots.
  • County Elections Department spokesperson Megan Gilbertson told Axios that all printers and tabulators are tested prior to the general election, and it's unclear why that testing didn't detect the problem.
  • Context: All in-person Election Day voters have their ballots printed onsite.

State of play: Voters whose ballots were rejected were instructed to deposit their ballots in a box so they could be transported to the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center (MCTEC).

  • The affected ballots will be counted by the central tabulators at MCTEC on Wednesday.
  • Voters in Maricopa County can cast a ballot at any polling site regardless of where they live, so instructions were given to voters who didn't want to leave their ballots in the boxes to go to another polling place and receive a new ballot.

What they're saying: "We do not believe that anyone has been disenfranchised because no one has been turned away," Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates told reporters at a press conference.

What we're watching: It's unknown whether the problem will prolong the vote-counting process.

  • Gilbertson said the central tabulators at MCTEC, which are bigger and more advanced than the ones used at voting centers, have had no problems reading early ballots (cast before Election Day) produced from the same printers.
  • Fields Moseley, a spokesperson for the county, told Axios that the central tabulators are "incredibly fast."
  • If the central tabulators can't read the ballots, they'll go through a process called duplication in which election workers copy the voter's choices onto a new ballot.

Of note: Many prominent Arizona Republicans, particularly those who have promoted false claims that the 2020 election was rigged, were quick to portray the issue on social media Tuesday as evidence that the election was mismanaged and that Arizona election laws are in need of an overhaul.

  • Lake and Mark Finchem, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, unsuccessfully sued the state earlier this year to bar the use of machines to count ballots.

Editor's note: This story and headline have been updated to show a Maricopa County judge's decision in the lawsuit from Republicans.

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