PHOENIX — Problems with ballot printers that caused lines to build up at some Phoenix-area polling places last year were not caused by malicious actions but by changes to the paper, a retired Court judge has concluded. Arizona Supreme Court in a report released Monday.
County officials used longer ballots on thicker paper than had previously been used, changes that were made in part to respond to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories but pushed printers to the limit of their capabilities, former Judge Ruth wrote. McGregor.
He added that pre-election tests may not have caught the problem because the test did not adequately mimic the stress printers experience on Election Day.
“Nothing we learned in our interviews or document reviews gave a clear indication that the problems should have been anticipated,” McGregor wrote.
McGregor’s findings show the challenges election officials face when responding to concerns spread by election deniers with changes that have their own unintended consequences that raise more questions among voters primed to be skeptical about election procedures.
Clint Hickman, the Republican chairman of the county’s board of supervisors, said the board «will be making changes to better serve voters, starting with replacing some equipment.»
Republican Kari Lake, who lost the gubernatorial race, along with Republican candidates for attorney general and secretary of state have pointed to printer problems as the reason for their losses. The Lake campaign’s Twitter account called McGregor’s report a «sham.»
McGregor’s team printed and counted 9,100 ballots, and concluded that the problem could be traced to a part known as the fuser in Oki B432 printers, one of two models used in vote centers.
For some printers, the fuser was unable to consistently maintain the proper temperature to bind the toner to the paper, resulting in ballots that could not be read by precinct-based tabulators. On Election Day, thousands of ballots from problematic printers were counted on more sophisticated scanners at the county election headquarters in downtown Phoenix. Officials say all voters had a chance to cast their ballots and all legal ballots were counted.
McGregor, who was appointed to the state’s high court by former Republican Gov. Jane Hull, said the problem was more pronounced because of two changes made for the 2022 general election.
Ballot length was increased from 19 to 20 inches to accommodate more than 70 contests. And the thickness of the paper increased after some voters in 2020 complained that Sharpie-brand markers used at polling places caused ink to bleed from one side of the paper to the other. The issue doesn’t affect vote counting, but claims it was evidence of fraud were widespread among supporters of former President Donald Trump, who narrowly lost Arizona that year.
In McGregor’s tests, thicker paper led to higher failure rates, and adding an extra inch to the length of the ballot further increased the problems.
McGregor suggested a number of possible solutions for future elections, such as getting rid of the Oki printers or more aggressive testing to find the ones with problems. She said thicker paper and seal-based tabulators increased problem rates. Approximately half of the counties in Arizona count all of their ballots in one central location.
“You can be confident that our board will take the necessary steps to ensure that in-person voters have the experience they deserve in 2024,” Jack Sellers, the county’s Republican supervisor, said in a statement.