The claim: Malware, remote access caused printer problems; 200,000 'ejected' ballots in Arizona
A Sept. 14 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) shows a screenshot of a post on X, formerly Twitter, with a supposed update on the problems with ballot printers in Arizona's largest county during the 2022 midterms.
“BREAKING: Evidence shows the Maricopa County Election Day printer ‘failures' were caused by malware or by remote access,” the post reads. "200,000 ballots were ejected out of 248,000 votes cast."
It was liked more than 500 times in five days. The original X post from the right-wing website Leading Report was shared more than 8,000 times in five days.
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Our rating: False
An investigation by a retired state Supreme Court justice found the cause of those printer problems was the switch to larger ballots printed on heavier, thicker paper – not malicious actors. County officials have repeatedly said that all legally cast ballots were counted and included in the official results.
New ballots were longer, thicker
The Leading Report post echoes a Sept. 12 post on X from former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who similarly claimed without evidence that more than 200,000 ballots were "ejected," an apparent typo from her past claims about ballots being rejected.
Printers at the county's polling sites produce ballots on demand so voters can vote at any location. But at about 60 of those places on Election Day 2022, problems with those printers led to long lines, the Arizona Republic reported. It sparked conspiracy theories and led to an investigation by retired state Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor.
Maricopa County election officials say all ballots cast legally were counted and included in the official results.
But Lake, who has falsely claimed she lost the state’s gubernatorial race in 2022 due to fraud, has filed a lawsuit asserting the lines and wait times deprived Republicans of their right to vote. She and her lawyers have blamed malware or remote access to Election Day printers for causing tabulation problems, but they have yet to produce evidence demonstrating that.
Lake's latest social media post appears to be an attempt to echo debunked claims that nearly 250,000 voting attempts failed in that year's election. County officials previously said about 248,000 people voted in person on Election Day that year.
The review by McGregor found no evidence of foul play but instead determined the problems had to do with the printers themselves and a change to the paper fed into them. At 20 inches long and a weight of 100 pounds for every 500 sheets, the new ballots were longer, thicker and heavier than the previous ones that measured 19 inches and weighed 80 pounds, according to the McGregor report.
As a result, some of the county’s older Oki B432 printers failed to stay hot enough to consistently print ballots dark enough to be read by the tabulators at the precincts, according to the report. It said those ballots had to be taken to scanners in downtown Phoenix for counting.
So any votes that were "rejected" by the on-site tabulators were counted properly.
"All legal ballots were counted and included in the official results, but the printer issues caused frustration for many Election Day voters, something the board (of supervisors) has vowed to remedy," county officials said in a statement following the investigation.
Jennifer Liewer, the county’s deputy elections director for communications, pointed USA TODAY to a subsequent internal review in July that found those issues were related to the performance of the fuser, the two heated rollers that melt the toner powder to the paper.
The county changed the paper size in order to fit more than 70 races on them, and thicker paper was used because some voters complained that ink from the markers used to vote bled through the paper, The Associated Press reported.
USA TODAY reached out to both Leading Report and Lake for comment but did not immediately receive responses.
“People are not really aware of how printers and voting machines are set up and the multiple layers of security that are in place,” Patty Ferguson Bohnee, a law professor at Arizona State University, said in an email to USA TODAY. “People exploit this lack of knowledge so that people don't trust elections. The lack of confidence in our election results is a threat to democracy.”
Our fact-check sources:
Patty Ferguson Bohnee, Sept. 15, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Edward Foley, Sept. 15, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Jennifer Liewer, Sept. 18, Email exchange with USA TODAY
Maricopa County, April 10, Maricopa County 2022 General Election Ballot-on-Demand Printer Investigation
Maricopa County, April 10, Printer Investigation Complete
Maricopa County, Nov. 28, 2002, X (Twitter) post
Arizona Mirror, Sept. 19, Kari Lake appeals again, accuses Maricopa County of ‘engineered Election Day chaos’
Arizona Republic, Nov. 9, 2022, Early glitches with Maricopa County election machines frustrate voters
Clerk of the Superior Court, Maricopa County, Arizona, Dec. 9, 2022, CV2022-095403 - Complaint in Special Action and Verified Statement of Election Contest - Part 1
Maricopa County Elections, July 26, 2022 General Election Internal Review
The Associated Press, Nov. 9, 2022, Voting snag in Arizona fuels election conspiracy theories
The Associated Press, April 10, Paper changes caused Maricopa County printer failure: report
How Stuff Works, March 14, 2007, How Laser Printers Work
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Arizona ballot printer issues blamed on paper change | Fact check