Report released on cause of Maricopa County Election Day ballot issues

Apr 10, 2023, 12:47 PM | Updated: 1:32 pm

An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Thurs...

An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

PHOENIX — The findings of an independent investigation into 2022 Election Day ballot-printing issues in Maricopa County were released Monday.

The investigators, led by former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, concluded that the size and weight of the paper used for on-demand ballot creation required the printers to “perform at the extreme edge of their capability, a level that could not be reliably sustained by a substantial number of printers.”

Election officials had no way of knowing about the potential issues in advance, according to the 38-page report.

“Nothing we learned in our interviews or document reviews gave any clear indication that the problems should have been anticipated,” the report says.

The same Oki B432 printers worked fine during the 2022 primary election with 100-pound paper for 19-inch ballots. But the county changed the size of the ballots to 20 inches for the Nov. 8 general election in order to fit all the races and legally required information.

The size/weight combination made it harder for the printers’ fusers to get hot enough to fuse the toner to the paper properly, according to the report.

“This report is exactly what we needed, an unbiased analysis of what happened and a range of recommendations for what to do next,” County Supervisor Jack Sellers said in a press release.

“Whether it’s replacing printers, using different paper or changing the way we test equipment before an election, you can be sure our board will take any steps necessary to ensure in-person voters have the experience they deserve in 2024.”

The county used 80-pound paper in 2020 but increased the weight to 100 pounds, in part, in response to concerns about bleed-through affecting tabulation. The report said reverting back to 80-pound paper would be a way to avoid a repeat of the printing mishap, but acknowledged that it might not go over well with some voters.

“Given the prior ‘SharpieGate’ experience, however, whether that change can be made without reducing public confidence is an issue,” the report says.

Tabulators had trouble reading completed ballots at around 70 of the county’s 223 voting centers on Election Day, officials said. By that afternoon, technicians were able to fix the problem by adjusting the toner settings on the printers.

Voters who had issues were given the option of using a different voting location or putting their completed ballots into a secure compartment built into the tabulators. Those ballots were later collected by election workers and taken to be tallied at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center.

County officials say all the submitted ballots were accurately counted.

The printer problems have been the focus of arguments in thus-far unsuccessful lawsuits from Republicans Kari Lake and Abraham Hamadeh, who lost races for governor and attorney general, respectively.

In early January, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors hired McGregor to lead an independent probe into the printer issues.

“The MCAO [Maricopa County Attorney’s Office] and Maricopa County Board of Supervisors made it clear at the outset that this investigation should be independent and free of any outside influence,” the report says. “We have encountered nothing during the investigation that appeared intended to or that did undermine the independence of the investigation.”

McGregor was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court by Republican Gov. Jane Dee Hull in 1998 and retired in 2009. She was chief justice from 2005 until she retired.

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Report released on cause of Maricopa County Election Day ballot issues