Minor poll problems twisted into false US election claims

Former President Donald Trump and some other Republicans are twisting minor voting problems in U.S. midterm elections into conspiracy theories and false claims to sow doubt about Democratic victories, continuing efforts since 2020 to undermine Americans’ confidence in voting.

Election Day unfolded without major or widespread voting snags, yet some GOP candidates sought to distort the severity of the few hitches that occurred, such as voting machines temporarily malfunctioning in Arizona’s largest county and some Detroit voters wrongly being told they had already cast ballots.

“The most concerning thing is the way those isolated incidents are being used to spread mis- and disinformation and lies around the election in an attempt to undermine people’s confidence and faith in the election,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the nonpartisan group Common Cause.

In 2020, conspiracies about a rigged election were fueled by bogus reports of suitcases stuffed with fraudulent ballots at a Georgia vote-counting operation and ‘’ballot mules’’ loading up drop boxes with fraudulent ballots.

The GOP has kept up the rhetoric since then and laid the groundwork for contesting this year's midterm elections. More than 100 lawsuits were filed across the country before Election Day, targeting mail-in voting rules, voting machine security and access for partisan poll watchers.

After Trump lost Arizona to President Joe Biden by just over 10,000 votes, he and his supporters peddled a string of allegations about election wrongdoing that crumbled under scrutiny.

Two years later, the state remains pivotal. Democrats held narrow leads early Wednesday in too-close-to-call races for governor and U.S. Senate.

Trump and some of his supporters sought to amplify problems with vote-tabulation equipment in roughly 25% of polling places in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and the majority of the state’s population.

Codes on ballots that were printed too lightly to be be read by tabulating scanners caused the confusion. Impacted voters were given a choice: Leave their ballots in a locked box at their polling place to be counted at a central office on Wednesday, or take them to another voting center on Tuesday.

Trump seized on the problem in a message on his social network. He said the problem, which appeared similar to a voting issue in New Jersey’s Mercer County, was an effort by Democrats to “steal the election.”

“Every national election you have problems like these somewhere,” said Lawrence Norden, senior director of the Elections and Government Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The fact that we’re talking about them the next day speaks to the fact that there was an organized effort to weaponize these types of things.”

The Republican official overseeing the election in Maricopa County apologized for the inconvenience and pledged that every legal vote would be counted no matter which method voters chose.

But Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor, told her supporters that they should leave the ballot to be counted later only if they couldn’t wait — and that they should not take it to another polling place.

In a late-night speech to supporters, Lake focused entirely on election issues.

“The system we have right now does not work,” she said. “We the people deserve to know on election night the winner and the loser and we will bring that kind of election back to Arizona. I assure you of that.”

Election critics also focused on a glitch in Detroit. Some electronic poll books used for signing in voters displayed an error message stating that numbers on ballots already had been assigned to an absentee ballot. Poll workers were able to use paper backup poll books when the electronic ones had problems.

Detroit is a Democratic stronghold in a swing state, so turnout there can be key in election outcomes. On Tuesday, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer was re-elected as governor. Democrats also won races for attorney general and secretary of state, defeating Republicans who questioned the 2020 election results.

“It was identified and resolved quite quickly” and voters who were wrongly flagged were given ballots, said Jake Rollow, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State office.

But that didn’t keep Trump from urging his supporters to protest in Detroit — actions that did not materialize on Tuesday.

“We have seen misinformation spread about nuances and complexity of elections for more than two years,” Rollow said. “It continues to be a threat to our democracy, a threat to voters’ faith in our elections and really just an unfortunate part of the current political era.”

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press writers Anita Snow in Phoenix and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this article.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections.

Christina A. Cassidy And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press