When he stepped inside a Phoenix polling place on the morning of Election Day on the way to work, Kevin Bembry was told that the tabulation machines were not functioning properly and he might want to vote somewhere else.
“I’ve never had that happen before,” Bembry, 57, a security officer, said in a video later posted online.
His testimony was one of many circulated on social media by activist groups, right-wing media outlets and Kari Lake, the Republican candidate for governor, whose campaign posted Bembry’s video along with several others on Thursday.
Lake has vowed to keep fighting the election after her race was called by The Associated Press for her Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs. Lake has claimed her defeat was the result of the “disenfranchisement” of her supporters in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and where technical problems on Election Day introduced delays, confusion and conspiracy theories. On Twitter, Lake’s campaign has claimed that the election was compromised and said that “the appropriate thing to do would be to let Maricopa County cast their votes again.”
But a crucial element has been missing so far in all of these accounts: clear claims that any eligible voters in Maricopa County were actually denied the chance to vote.
The video the campaign circulated of Bembry, for instance, was an edited version of a longer video posted on the site Rumble. In the full video, he states that, despite the inconvenience, he cast his ballot at a nearby polling site. “I was able to vote — no waiting, no misreads of the tabulation machines, nothing,” he says.
The New York Times reviewed 45 accounts offered by voters and 20 additional accounts from poll workers and observers in legal filings, public meeting testimony, submissions to the Arizona secretary of state’s office and on social media posts associated with Lake, her campaign and her allies, in some cases interviewing the voters to clarify details.
In 34 of the 45 accounts, voters acknowledged that, while inconvenienced, they had ultimately been able to cast their ballots.
Three other people described having run into possible issues with their voter registrations. Only one voter, who did not give her full name, claimed to have actually been denied the opportunity to cast a ballot outright, in a brief video that Lake posted to Twitter. That voter noted, however, that she had arrived at the polling place at the time it closed, suggesting that her late arrival, rather than any disenfranchisement, might have been the reason she was unable to vote.
In seven other accounts reviewed by the Times, voters were unclear about whether they had successfully cast ballots or believed their vote had not been counted properly.
The Times also reviewed two reports released Saturday by the Election Integrity Network, a national right-wing election activist group, compiling accounts from Maricopa County observers, poll workers and Republican attorneys that echoed the voter accounts.
In an interview, Bembry, the security officer, repeated the same account of his experience that he had given in the video. He said he believed the poll worker had intentionally given him the wrong information about where to go to vote. Bembry went to a nearby polling site, cast his ballot and arrived at work with “about 10 minutes to spare.”
Maricopa County officials have said that all voters who went to polling places to cast ballots in person on Tuesday were given the opportunity to vote.
Lake’s campaign has hinted on social media that its lawyers are reviewing more damning evidence that they have not made public. “It’s either total incompetence or malice, and that’s what we’re going to try to find out,” Caroline Wren, a spokeswoman for the campaign, told Steve Bannon on his “War Room” podcast on Thursday.
In response to questions from the Times about voters’ accounts, Wren said: “Has The NYT quantified how many disenfranchised voters is too many? Is it 10, 100, 500, 5,000, 25,000?”
That Lake and her supporters would dispute a losing result in the race for governor was in some ways preordained. Lake, a former TV news anchor endorsed by Donald Trump, embraced his false claims of a stolen 2020 election, and during the campaign she refused to say whether she would accept the result if she lost. “I’m going to win the election and accept that result,” Lake told CNN in October.
Hobbs has 17,150 more votes than Lake as of Saturday morning, a margin of 0.6%. The state is scheduled to certify the election on Dec. 5.
The drama in recent days has carried echoes of the post-2020 election period, when Maricopa County was the subject of a raft of conspiracy theories and a partisan audit that became a rallying point for the movement pushing the false claims that the last presidential election had been stolen from Trump. Lake’s public denunciations about the election results have likely made Maricopa County the final battleground this year for 2020 election deniers who were involved in midterm races.
Appearing onstage at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday evening, Lake declared, “Our elections are a circus, run by clowns.”
But legal experts say the evidence presented publicly thus far by and on behalf of the campaign has fallen far short of what would be necessary to mount a serious legal challenge to the election result. Claims of voting slowdowns and technical difficulties often factor into voting rights litigation, but seeking to invalidate an election based on them — and in this case, throwing out more than 2.5 million actual votes statewide — is all but unheard-of.
“Civil rights attorneys would not ask for a new election,” said Sarah Brannon, a managing attorney with the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “What we would ask for are systematic fixes for the future.”
Many of the voters’ accounts and the Lake campaign’s claims have their origins in a widespread malfunction of voting equipment early on the morning of Election Day that caused delays and confusion across the Phoenix area. The voting issues are playing out in the nation’s fourth-most populous county, larger in area than four states, with a population of 4.4 million, more than half of Arizona’s population.
Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the county elections department, said that by 6:30 a.m. on Election Day, technicians had started reporting technical issues and that by 7 a.m. officials had realized those reports were part of a broader pattern.
Jeff Ellington, the chief executive of Runbeck Election Services, said, “They’re like, ‘Hey, the ballots aren’t tabulating — they’re not going through the precinct scanners.’”
Runbeck has a contract with Maricopa County to service its voting centers, which, because Arizonans can vote at any polling place in their home county, are equipped with laser printers that print ballots on demand. When he saw a photograph of the ballots, Ellington said, he quickly realized the printers were to blame.
Some ballots were printed too lightly, and others had toner flaking off the paper, two conditions that kept them from being read by the optical scanners in the tabulators used at the polling locations. Although some voting centers had been open for early voting, which started Oct. 12, none used tabulators until Election Day. Instead, early votes were deposited in locked drop boxes and kept to be counted later.
Runbeck’s field technicians soon determined that the problem lay in the insufficient temperature of the fuser, the component of a laser printer that heats the toner, causing it to adhere to paper.
Isolated printer malfunctions are common enough, but the scale of what happened in Maricopa County was far from ordinary. At least one printer failed at 70 of the county’s 223 polling places on Tuesday morning, according to Gilbertson.
Both Gilbertson and Ellington said that the mass malfunction of the printers had so far baffled the county’s and the company’s technicians. Gilbertson said that a full investigation would be conducted once the more immediate task of counting the ballots had been completed.
“We are going to look into the root cause,” Gilbertson said.
Technicians had solved the printer problem by late morning on Election Day, and by the afternoon the affected printers’ settings had been updated. In the meantime, poll workers offered voters three options for casting their ballots. The simplest was to place them in a slot marked “3” in the locked box beneath the tabulator, for collection and counting later at the county’s central elections facility in downtown Phoenix.
But within two hours of the first printer problems, wild claims and free-floating suspicions were circulating on social media surrounding Slot 3, or Box 3 as it was often called, including posts by Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the state Republican Party, and Andy Biggs, a Republican congressman from Arizona. After Maricopa County officials on Twitter had informed voters affected by the glitch of their options, including using Box 3, Ward tweeted in response: “DO NOT PUT YOUR BALLOT IN ‘BOX 3’ TO BE TABULATED DOWNTOWN. Maricopa County is not turning on their tabulators downtown today!” Her post was retweeted almost 400 times.
As the day went on, Lake’s campaign, wary of depressing turnout, began gently pushing back on its political allies’ claims.
Harmeet Dhillon, a lawyer for the campaign, tried to reassure voters on Twitter about the integrity of their ballots that had been set aside for later counting. “They have to have this,” she wrote of Box 3. “It isn’t nefarious per se.” At a news conference, Lake urged her supporters to stay in line to vote, and Dhillon again reassured them about using Box 3.
County election officials have blamed the Box 3 claims and other conspiracy theories for exacerbating the slowdowns and confusion caused by the printer malfunctions. Gilbertson said that 146 provisional ballots out of the near-total of 1.6 million votes counted so far in the county had been set aside for further research, because the voters had checked in at more than one polling place.
Bill Gates, the chairman of the Maricopa board of supervisors and a former election lawyer for the state Republican Party, said some voters “were insisting on putting the ballot through the tabulator 10, 20, even 40 times.”
He added: “Obviously, that slowed things down. Were there lines? Yes. But a certain political party is as responsible for those lines as Maricopa County is.”
One of the earliest efforts by Republicans to compile testimony about Election Day irregularities was led by Floyd G. Brown, the founder of the right-wing website Western Journal.
Brown — a political operative known for his role in producing the race-baiting “Willie Horton” ad in the 1988 presidential campaign — wrote on Twitter that he had held lengthy discussions with a close circle of Lake campaign associates, an account confirmed by a person familiar with the talks.
“Spent hours last night working with the Lake team on a continuing war for Arizona,” he tweeted. “She will not go quietly into the night.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.