Officials scramble to defend integrity of the US poll

An election worker holds an American flag at a polling place at Galleria at Sunset on 8 November, 2022 in Henderson, NevadaAFP

Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud -- prompted by isolated voting issues, and amplified by Donald Trump -- left officials scrambling Tuesday to defend the integrity of the US midterm elections.

Republicans in the bitterly contested Maricopa County in Arizona sued to extend voting hours, with Trump and his allies claiming a small number of non-functioning tabulation machines were evidence of a fix.

"The widespread issues... are completely unacceptable, especially as Republicans flock to the polls to vote in-person," said a statement from the Republican National Committee, announcing the lawsuit.

Officials in Maricopa County, which includes the city of Phoenix, the fifth most populous US city, said a minority of the 223 polling stations experienced difficulties.

The county became ground zero for the election denialism driven by Trump after his defeat in 2020.

President Joe Biden won Arizona by a razor-thin 10,000 votes in 2020, with cosmopolitan and densely populated Maricopa key to his support.

But in rural parts of Arizona, a state which had previously leaned Republican, that result was viewed with suspicion and sparked conspiracy theories.

"We've got about 20 percent of the locations out there where there's an issue with the tabulator," said Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates.

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By early afternoon Maricopa County Elections Department said on Twitter they had resolved the issues at several polling centers.

Gates said the broken-down machines would not affect the probity of the poll.

"We also have a redundancy in place," Gates added, saying paper ballots would be transferred in a secure box to a central election facility for tabulation.

Trump's groundless claims

Trump and his supporters have spent much of the last two years pushing groundless claims of ballot stuffing, despite numerous investigations -- including a Republican-funded one -- that found no evidence of fraud.

Republican candidates for Arizona's secretary of state, governor and a US Senate seat all subscribe to the debunked theory, and say they would not have certified Biden's win.

Masked poll watchers, some of them armed, have hung around early voting drop boxes, in what they said was an effort to prevent ballot stuffing, until a judge ordered them to keep their distance.

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Nonpartisan county officials have mounted a huge voter confidence operation, holding open meetings and inviting citizens to inspect voting security procedures.

But Tuesday's breakdowns were taken as evidence by some Republicans that there was cheating afoot.

Trump-endorsed candidate for secretary of state, Kari Lake, lashed out at the disruptions, hinting that they may have been deliberate.

"This is incompetency. I hope it's not malice," she said.

Trump took to his Truth Social platform to denounce the county.

"Reports are coming in from Arizona that the Voting Machines are not properly working in predominantly Republican/Conservative areas," he wrote.

"Can this possibly be true when a vast majority of Republicans waited for today to Vote? Here we go again? The people will not stand for it!!!"

Voters in line in Maricopa agreed.

"It's happening all over again," said one voter, who did not wish to give his name.

Donald Newton, 82, said it was not acceptable.

"This machine should have been tested and working a long time ago, you know, last week," he said.

Texas, Georgia

In Georgia, where Trump-endorsed former NFL star Herschel Walker is battling incumbent Raphael Warnock, officials in Cobb county shipped hundreds of forms to voters overnight after a clerical error affecting people who requested absentee ballots.

More than 1,000 people were affected, some of whom have since decided to vote by another method. The rest will have their votes counted as long as they are postmarked by election day.

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In Harris County, the third most populous county in Texas, voters found closed gates, long lines and non-operational voting machines, the Washington Post reported.

County elections office spokesperson Nadia Hakim said there had been complaints from more than half a dozen polling stations, including a busy spot where a third of the 60 voting machines were not working, creating long lines.

"That is our busiest polling location, so if anything goes down over there, it is super noticeable," the paper quoted her as saying noting the machines were fixed by midmorning.

Nonpartisan organization said the isolated incidents were not expected to alter the ballot.

"There are reports in several states that some voting machines are having technical problems," CEO Andrea Hailey said.

"Officials are working hard to resolve those issues and ensure voters have other options.

"This type of transparency from election officials shows the strength and resiliency of our democracy and the people and systems that uphold it."