Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich demands answers from Maricopa County on election day printer problems

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Arizona’s Republican attorney general has demanded answers from Maricopa County about widespread printer problems that plagued Election Day voting, injecting new uncertainty into a fraught post-election dynamic just days before the county is required to certify the results.

The investigation heightens tensions between Maricopa County and outgoing Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who placed county officials under investigation after the 2020 election. Brnovich’s office wants answers from county officials before they submit their final election results later this month. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

A four-page document, issued Saturday on letterhead from Brnovich’s office, contains criticism of the county’s administration of the election, but no findings that would call the outcome into question. Republican candidates lost the state’s most critical contests, including those for senator and governor.

Beginning early on Election Day, printers at 70 of the county’s 223 polling places produced ballots with ink that was too light to be read by vote-counting machines, county officials have said. That forced voters to wait in line, travel to another location or deposit their ballots in secure boxes that were transferred to downtown Phoenix and counted there.

County leaders have yet to explain what caused the problems and said they will conduct a comprehensive review once the vote tabulation is complete. But they maintain that no one was denied the right to vote. An Arizona judge reached the same conclusion, denying a request by Republicans to extend voting hours on Election Day in light of the mechanical errors.

But the Election Day issues now highlighted by the state’s top law enforcement official are likely to fuel Republican efforts to contest the election’s outcome, particularly the razor-thin margin in the attorney general’s race, according to top lawyers affiliated with both parties, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for to share honest assessments of an ongoing legal case. Democrats say they believe the allegations will lack merit.

In the attorney general’s race, which appears destined for a recount, Democrat Kris Mayes led his Republican opponent, Abe Hamadeh, by just 850 votes as of Sunday. Hamadeh has vowed to “lock up” people involved in the 2020 election. His campaign has been exploring its legal options in coordination with national Republicans and advisers to Kari Lake, according to people familiar with the situation. Lake, the GOP nominee for governor, was expected last Monday to have lost his race and was more than 17,000 votes behind as of Sunday.

Lake has refused to concede, citing widespread typographical errors to argue that her supporters were “disenfranchised”. Her campaign has posted video testimonials from supporters describing how they encountered the errors, though some ended up saying they were able to cast their ballots.

A Washington Post analysis found that the polling places affected by the problems were not overwhelmingly Republican. The analysis found that the share of registered Republicans in affected areas, about 37 percent, is roughly the same as the share of registered Republicans countywide, which stands at 35 percent.

Now, an election integrity unit within Brnovich’s office has weighed in. The embattled entity, created by Republican lawmakers after the 2018 midterm elections delivered top-to-bottom victories for Democrats, has faced criticism from election deniers and the political right more broadly for not spotlighting enough fraud, and from the left for to use public resources to incite misinformation about voting.

In the Saturday letter, an assistant state attorney who heads the unit wrote that it had “received hundreds of complaints since Election Day regarding the administration of the 2020 general election in Maricopa County.”

The letter is addressed to Tom Liddy, head of civil litigation in the county. It is requesting a report detailing problems with the printers, including which polling places were affected and how county officials determined printer configuration settings caused the ink problems. It asks for a “comprehensive log of all changes” to the settings.

Liddy declined to discuss the letter Sunday, saying he needed to meet with county officials tasked with overseeing the election.

“We in Maricopa County are still awaiting the final report from the attorney general on his ongoing investigation into the 2020 election,” Liddy said in a brief phone interview. “I’m a bit surprised he’s getting ready to start one in 2022 when he hasn’t finished the first one yet, but I wish him well.”

Bill Gates, the Republican chairman of the county board, declined to comment.

The attorney general is also asking in the letter for information about people who may have failed to properly check out of a polling center after encountering the problems, potentially preventing them from casting a vote elsewhere. And the letter raises concerns that ballots deposited in the secure boxes known as “Door 3” may have been mixed with other ballots, which the letter describes as a violation of statutory guidelines.

County officials have acknowledged isolated incidents where different lots of ballots have been combined, but have said protocols, carried out with observers from both political parties present, include checking the total number of ballots against check-in at polling places.

The letter requests a response by Nov. 28, which is the deadline for the county to certify the results of the election. State certification is set for December 5.

The assistant attorney general who signed the letter is Jennifer Wright, an attorney whose 2011 bid for Phoenix mayor was backed by tea party activists. From 2010 to 2014, Wright co-chaired Verify the Vote Arizona and worked closely with True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that has made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud around the country.

Brnovich, the attorney general, affirmed the legitimacy of the 2020 election despite pressure from then-President Donald Trump to stand behind Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud. But as an unsuccessful candidate in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate this year, Brnovich emphasized his office’s work on election integrity, claiming he showed “serious concerns.” His office has prosecuted about 20 cases of voter fraud over the past three years in a state with more than 4 million voters.

Days before the November election, Brnovich made his sharpest comments yet about candidates denying Trump’s loss, calling them “clowns” engaged in a “gigantic grief.” County leaders last week approved moving forward with a lawsuit against Brnovich’s office over its alleged failure to produce public records stemming from the state’s investigation into them.

In the days since the Nov. 8 midterms, Republicans have been vague about possible lawsuits.

A legal expert said that even if Republicans try to use Brnovich’s letter to bolster their efforts to challenge the results of close races, it should have no impact on the approval of the results.

“It’s legally nothing,” said Tom Irvine, a now-retired attorney with four decades of election law experience who represented Maricopa County in the 1990s and 2000s.

“There is no evidence that anyone was disadvantaged,” said Irvine, a Democrat.

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