Facebook Twitter

All election mistakes are now seen through a partisan lens

Allegations of intentional partisan disenfranchisement are easier to believe than absurd conspiracy theories, but what should matter most is showing the proof.

A bearded man in a dark suit and sunglasses holds the hand of a woman wearing a red blouse and sunglasses and holding a coffee cup as they walk.

Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake walks with her husband Jeff Halperin, and their children Ruby and Leo (not shown) as they arrive to cast their ballots at polling station on Nov. 8 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A version of this post was originally distributed in Votebeat’s weekly newsletter. Sign up here

Good morning,

There’s a new narrative emerging around elections. After vote centers around Maricopa County started reporting ballot printing problems on Election Day, some prominent Republicans insinuated the glitch was an intentional targeting of GOP voters. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake told reporters that she “came right down to the heart of liberal Phoenix to vote because we wanted to make sure that we had good machines.”

Former president Donald Trump also picked up the theme, posting repeatedly about the issues in Maricopa County. “Voting Machines in large numbers didn’t work, but only in Republican districts.” he wrote on Truth Social Friday.  

In fact, the affected locations didn’t skew particularly Republican, the Washington Post concluded in an analysis published Sunday. As Votebeat’s Jen Fifield reported, the problem stemmed from incorrect printer settings at about a third of the county’s vote centers. 

In an environment where every election mishap is viewed through a supercharged partisan lens, there’s no presumption of a good-faith mistake. Instead, partisan actors are quick to suggest, or outright assert, intentional disenfranchisement, an explosive allegation as polarized voters attempt to navigate through the cause of problems like the ones in Maricopa. 

Obviously, the way to reach the truth is to look at the data, just as the Washington Post did in the Maricopa case, and vet the assertions with actual facts. But that takes time — far more time than it takes for an allegation to go viral in the middle of a charged moment.

The nonpartisan Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of researchers specializing in online information, reported there were 40,000 tweets about Maricopa’s ballot problem in the span of two hours on Election Day, and a high-profile tweet by activist Charlie Kirk “fueled others who allege that these machine failures are deliberate.”

So what’s a voter to do when prominent people are suggesting they’re being targeted for disenfranchisement? “I would always look at these things skeptically until proven otherwise,” cautioned David Becker, executive director and founder of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, which works to improve election administration. 

“We always see partisans, and this is not all on the right, by the way, try to spread narratives that certain things have partisan effects” and partisan intent, Becker said, pointing to an ongoing dispute over Saturday early voting in the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff that has fractured along partisan lines. 

It’s clear these allegations are going to keep coming. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is calling for an investigation into Harris County elections after a series of problems, including, he says, “insufficient paper ballots in Republican precincts.” There’s no evidence that the problems were only in Republican areas. 

In a report last month, the Election Integrity Partnership examined two recent instances — an incident in Colorado where state officials sent voter registration postcards to noncitizens and problems with in-person voting in Pinal County during Arizona’s primary — where a mistake prompted allegations it was an intentional attempt to skew election results. The report’s authors presciently wrote that “in elections, honest human errors can be opportunistically exploited to imply intentionality and to support unfounded narratives of intentional, widespread fraud, undermining the legitimacy of electoral outcomes.”

Allegations of partisan undermining of elections are far more understandable, and believable, to most voters than bizarre and far-fetched conspiracy theories involving dead Venezuelan dictators and liberal donors. And they’re getting fed to a public that’s spent the past several years hearing seemingly endless accusations of electoral fraud. 

So, how to wade through the noise? EIP’s report suggests that election officials address problems quickly and transparently and by defining the scope of errors, so the public knows exactly how many voters were affected. 

And it points regular people to a variation on a principle known as Hanlon’s Razor, advising them, perhaps a bit hopefully, to “never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by sincere error.”

A heads up: We’re taking next week off from this newsletter for the holiday. We’ll be back on Dec. 3 with our usual analysis of important voting news.

Back Then

In 2006, a surprisingly similar problem to Maricopa’s played out in reverse in Maryland. In that midterm, thousands of voters sought absentee ballots after computer glitches across the state rocked their confidence, but the state faced a shortage. The same year in Maryland, other voters waited in line for hours before giving up, when more technical glitches occurred and polling places were not prepared with enough paper back-up ballots. Republicans ultimately achieved a narrow victory over Democrats, and Democrats questioned the validity of the results given how many voters simply chose not to vote. 

New From Votebeat

The ballots of 146 county voters are in limbo and potentially will not be counted in the wake of widespread printer problems at vote centers there, though county officials are researching those ballots to determine which ones should be counted, Jen Fifield reports for Votebeat Arizona. 

Republican supervisors in Cochise County, Arizona, sued the county’s elections director, asking a judge to order her to give access to midterm election ballots so the county recorder can conduct an expanded hand count audit. By Thursday, the supervisors had withdrawn the suit, saying that they did not want to interfere with an expected statewide recount. That ends the effort to expand the county’s hand count audit, for now, Fifield reports.

The onslaught of first-time student voters who overwhelmed polling places at Michigan’s two largest universities on Election Day has officials looking for ways to avoid such severe backups in future elections, Oralandar Brand-Williams reports for Votebeat Michigan.

An Election Day paper shortage in Luzerne County that led poll workers to turn away some voters is now under investigation, Carter Walker reports for Votebeat Pennsylvania.

Nearly two weeks after the election, as Harris County officials struggle to defend the county’s election from a barrage of criticism and litigation, the county still can’t describe how pervasive problems were at its 782 polling places and whether any were severe enough to prevent people from voting, Natalia Contreras reports for Votebeat Texas.

There’s a single election administrator in Texas who, an election activist says, “makes other election administrators look like idiots” — Heider Garcia, who oversees elections in Tarrant County and has won over many doubters, Contreras reports.

In Other Voting News

  • Allegations of voter fraud could be deterring voters who believe them from casting ballots, reports the New York Times, pointing to mixed messages from Republican candidates that could have discouraged their supporters. Those voter fraud claims haven’t gone away, the New York Times reports in a separate story, but seemed to gain less traction this year. 
  • An investigator for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office attended an event put on by conservative group True the Vote at which its leaders made allegations against a small election software company, the Los Angeles Times reports. The article presents a detailed analysis of the now-dismissed criminal case the county brought against Konnech Chief Executive Eugene Yu.
  • Democratic groups are suing the state of Georgia, arguing state officials are misinterpreting a law precluding early voting on a Saturday before the U.S. Senate runoff scheduled for Dec. 6, Georgia Public Broadcasting reports, and Republicans have joined the lawsuit as well, siding with the state.
  • The Nevada Supreme Court refused to halt a controversial hand-count of all ballots in Nye County, allowing it to continue counting ballots that have already been tallied by machine tabulators, the Associated Press reports. The court had shut down the count last month, agreeing with objections to volunteers reading partial results aloud as voting was ongoing. It appears unlikely to be finished in time to meet statutory deadlines. 
  • An Arizona ballot initiative to strengthen voter identification requirements has failed, the Arizona Republic reports. Fourteen of the state’s 15 county recorders opposed the measure as unnecessary. 
  • Newly elected Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen, a Republican, says he will keep a campaign promise to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a multistate program that outgoing GOP Secretary of State John Merrill has said is essential to maintaining clean voter rolls, Alabama.com reports. The program has been targeted by extremists.

Carrie Levine is Votebeat’s story editor and is based in Washington, D.C. Contact Carrie at clevine@votebeat.org.

The Latest
Election officials and courts forced to resolve more than 140 petitions from right-wing activists, most without evidence of fraud.
In Maricopa County, residents lash out at supervisors and dismiss explanations of Election Day problems. In Cochise, supervisors postpone certification again.
An analysis of ballots at risk of rejection for lacking or having an incorrect date shows they are more likely to come from non-white communities, among other disparities.
All 67 counties were required for the first time to participate in a “risk-limiting audit,” a statistical method of checking the accuracy of the election outcome.
After last-minute challenge from attorney general, county commissioners agree to certify those provisional votes in time for canvassing deadline.