What Happened on Election Day in Maricopa County, Arizona

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, Maricopa County, Arizona — the most populous county in Arizona and fourth most populous in the nation — was already the focus of attention because of the state’s close races, widespread election misinformation and reports of voter intimidation. On Monday, Nov. 7, the Maricopa County election administrators held a press conference to dispel false narratives that undermine election confidence. Unfortunately, on Tuesday morning, reports soon emerged that around 30% of the county’s vote centers were dealing with tabulator machine issues where machines were failing to scan ballots. Maricopa County officials repeatedly stressed that no voters were being disenfranchised because of this issue. Officials gave the following instructions to voters: If a voter’s ballot did not go through the precinct tabulator machine, they could instead put it in a secure ballot box, Door 3, that’s attached to the tabulator machine. This vote would be counted as normal, and in the same way as all early ballots, at an election tabulation center later on in the day. Yesterday, ballots placed in the Door 3 secure ballot box as opposed to the precinct tabulator were counted later on in the evening at the central tabulation center. Nonetheless, in the highly distrustful environment created by the Arizona GOP, conspiracies soon began circulating on social media. Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer (R) released a statement apologizing to any voter who has been “frustrated or inconvenienced” by the Election Day issues, but reiterated that “[e]very legal vote will be tabulated. I promise.” According to the county’s elections department, around 17,000 votes, or 7% of those who voted in person yesterday were placed in the secure ballot box, Door 3. 

Just over two hours before the polls were set to close in Arizona, the Republican National Committee (RNC), National Republican Senatorial Committee, Blake Masters for Senate and Kari Lake for Arizona filed a lawsuit seeking to extend the polling hours in Maricopa County because of the tabulator issues. The lawsuit asked the court to extend the hours for voting by three hours — from 7 p.m. MST to 10 p.m. MST — among other requests. The campaign of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing against the “eleventh hour” change on the basis that there was “no evidence that any voter who appeared to vote at Maricopa County polling places was turned away from the polls.”

A judge rapidly held a hearing on the emergency request and soon denied the extension. The judge concurred that he saw no evidence that voters were prevented from voting due to earlier issues with ballot tabulators. The judge noted that the handful of declarations submitted by voters in support of the Republicans’ motion were evidence of confusion, but not disenfranchisement. Finally, the judge read his order from the bench at around 6:55 p.m. MST; he noted that even if he agreed with the RNC, extending polling locations would be “impossible to perform” at this late time. The polls in Maricopa County closed at 7 p.m. MST as scheduled.

Results are still being tabulated in the state and we’ll keep you updated as developments happen.