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Maricopa County to review what went wrong with ballot printers on Election Day

Election workers sort ballots at the Maricopa County Ballot Tabulation Center last week in Phoenix. The election is not considered over until the vote totals are reviewed and certified.
John Moore
Getty Images
Election workers sort ballots at the Maricopa County Ballot Tabulation Center in Phoenix. The election is not considered over until the vote totals are reviewed and certified.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Maricopa County supervisors are bringing in a former Arizona Supreme Court chief justice to figure out what went wrong with ballot printers on Election Day.

The announcement Friday comes as failed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake continues to insist that the problems that kept tabulators from reading the ballots was an intentional act designed to depress Republican votes and deny her the election.

Lake has produced no actual evidence of tampering with the printers, much less who was involved. Instead, she has been relying on the testimony of Clay Parikh, a cybersecurity expert, who opined that the problem with some printers, specifically spitting out undersized images, must have been done intentionally.

In a joint statement, supervisors Chairman Bill Gates and Vice Chairman Clint Hickman make no reference to Lake's allegations. While those claims were dismissed by a trial judge, she is now taking her case to the state Court of Appeals.

Instead, they said the decision to seek review by Ruth McGregor was simply part of the board's commitment "to continuous improvement.''

"When things don't work, we find out why,'' the pair said.

"Justice McGregor will hire a team of independent experts to find out why the printers that read ballots well in the August primary had trouble reading some ballots while using the same settings in the November general election,'' they wrote. "Our voters deserve nothing less.''

The issue belongs to the supervisors because they are in charge of Election Day voting. The county recorder handles early ballots.

No specific deadline was disclosed for the report.

The issue arose because Maricopa County uses a system of vote centers, allowing residents to cast a ballot at any of 223 locations rather than have to go to the local precinct.

That, in turn, requires there be "ballot on demand'' printers which, provided with each person's information, prints out a ballot specific to that voter, with only the races on which he or she can choose.

Maricopa's system also uses on-site tabulators, allowing voters to immediately feed those on-demand ballots into the machine to be tallied. But at a number of sites the printers refused to read the ballots.

What also was subsequently discovered is that some printers were set to a "fit to page'' format, resulting in 19-inch ballots being printed on the standard 20-inch paper. And since the tabulators were programmed for 20-inch ballots they could not properly count them.

Less clear is whether that was the root cause.

There was testimony during Lake's first trial that officials at some locations, finding problems reading the ballots, reset the printer settings resulting in the 19-inch output.

There also was testimony by a temporary technical worker for the county that problems with printers could be solved by several means, including taking out and shaking the printer cartridges, cleaning the corona wire that helps move the toner from the drum to the paper, letting the printers warm up, and adjusting the settings. And the judge who threw out Lake's charges said that, apart from the last, none of those suggest an intent to produce an image unreadable to the on-site tabulators.

The judge, in rejecting claims the issues were created with the intent of altering the outcome, also noted that anyone whose ballot could not be immediately read by the tabulator could place it into a sealed box to be counted later at a central location.

This isn't McGregor's first foray into independent investigations.
In 2019 she and Rebecca White Berch, another retired chief justice led an inquiry into faulty locks in the state prison system.

That resulted in a scathing report about how Charles Ryan, then the agency director, remained "surprisingly uninformed'' about nonfunctioning locks at one of the state's largest prisons that result in "inmates streaming from cells to attack correctional officers and other inmates.''

The analysis found there was a "casual attitude of the inmates who leave their cells, wander the unit, and enter other cells.''

More significant, they said, were assault on corrections officers thast resulted at the Lewis Prison in Buckeye.

But the justices said they could definitely say that Ryan knew about the problems -- at least not until until he viewed videos that, by that time, had been aired on television.