Americans voted without major problems Tuesday in midterm elections receiving intense scrutiny after two years of false claims and conspiracy theories about how ballots are cast and counted.
With polls open across the country, no widespread problems with ballots, long lines or voter intimidation were reported, though there were hiccups in some places, which is typical on any Election Day.
One hitch garnered outsized attention: Vote tabulators malfunctioned in 20% of polling places in Arizona's most populous county that includes Phoenix. While election officials assured the public that every vote in Maricopa County would be counted, the issue prompted an outcry from Republicans in a state where elections for governor and U.S. Senate are expected to be close and where skepticism of election systems has run deep within the GOP since 2020.
Elsewhere, some voting sites in North Carolina were delayed in opening because workers showed up late, and officials extended voting hours there. And in one Pennsylvania county, polling places scrambled to replenish low supplies of paper ballots.
Election experts said the type and number of disruptions encountered by voters were not unusual.
But trouble with the vote-tabulation machines in Maricopa County sparked an outpouring of criticism on social media, and prompted Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to say after casting her ballot: “I'm embarrassed for Arizona.”
A spokesperson for the state’s elections department said the problem was minor.
“Voters have options,” spokesperson Megan Gilbertson said. “They can wait to put their ballot in the working tabulator, they can use the secure drop box, or they can go to another voting center if they don’t want to wait.”
By midday, nearly half of the county’s 232 voting centers reported no waits at all. The longest wait was slightly over an hour at an outlet mall in the Phoenix suburb of Anthem.
Since the last nationwide election in 2020, former President Donald Trump and his allies have succeeded in sowing wide distrust about voting by promoting false claims of extensive fraud. Those efforts, which have eroded public confidence in elections and democracy, continued on Tuesday as Trump and other prominent Republicans claimed that routine voting problems were a sign of efforts by Democrats to rig the election.
“There are attempts to use those election administration and voting machine issues that election workers are working to fix to spin a disinformation campaign,” said Jesse Littlewood, vice president of campaigns at Common Cause, which advocates for voting access.
The leadup to Election Day this year was marked by concerns about further harassment and the potential for disruptions at polling places and at election offices where ballots will be tallied. Election officials say they were prepared to handle any issues that arose and urged voters not to be deterred.
But instead of intimidation, there were mostly more benign reports of partisans campaigning aggressively just outside polling places in some areas. In Bridgton, Maine, police issued a warning to a woman who photographed a voter putting a ballot in a drop box on Monday and then posted it to social media.
At a polling place in the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, 25-year-old voter Tyler Moore said she won’t be surprised if there’s controversy after the election. “Everybody is on their toes about it,” she said after casting her ballot at a church. “But the best thing we can do about it is just to vote.”
In northeastern Pennsylvania's Luzerne County, several polling places needed their supply of ballots replenished. County solicitor Mike Butera said no voters were turned away, more ballots were being delivered to every precinct and that polls would stay open an extra two hours.
Before the pandemic, many states had begun to shift away from a single day of voting to offer days or weeks of early, in-person voting and ballots sent through the mail.
No major problems were reported during the early voting period. But some of Pennsylvania's largest counties were scrambling to help voters fix mail-in ballots that had flaws such as incorrect dates or missing signatures on the envelopes used to send them in. That has led to confusion and legal challenges in the battleground state where a few thousand ballots may be enough to sway outcomes of statewide races.
Heading into Tuesday, nearly 44.5 million people across the country had already cast ballots.
Party affiliation seems to be an increasing factor in how and when people vote. Republican skepticism of mail voting has persisted amid the attacks by Trump and his allies. Some Republican activists and candidates have gone so far as to encourage voters who receive a mailed ballot to wait until the very last minute to turn it in, claiming it will somehow prevent Democrats from stealing the election.
Election officials have defended the system. They note the many checks in place to ensure only one vote per person is counted, the reviews that ensure machines accurately count ballots and the efforts to identify any fraud attempts.
“State and local election officials have contingency plans in place so voters can have confidence in our elections,” the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors said in a statement.
But the false claims have spread widely among Republicans, fueled by conspiracy theorists on social media and at events held across the country.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey from October found 45% of Republicans had little to no confidence that votes in the midterm elections will be counted accurately. And a majority of Republicans, 58%, still believe President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected — though it’s down slightly from 66% in July 2021.
Election officials acknowledge electronic voting systems can be vulnerable and have taken numerous steps to increase security since the 2016 election, when it was determined that Russia looked for vulnerabilities. Congress has sent nearly $900 million to states to boost their cybersecurity defenses, including hiring more IT staffers, replacing outdated systems and adding regular security testing.
Most voters also cast hand-marked paper ballots or use machines that produce a paper record of their votes. These are used after the election to check that machines used to count ballots work properly.
Ahead of the election, Republican and conservative groups recruited people to serve as poll watchers and to get hired as local poll workers. Fueled by the lies about the 2020 election, some people even stationed themselves near ballot drop boxes in Arizona while toting guns, wearing body armor and concealing their faces with masks. Just last week, a judge ordered such groups to keep at least 250 feet away.
In Florida and Missouri, Republican election officials said U.S. Department of Justice monitors were not welcome inside polling places at a few counties in those states. It was an unusual step as the department's lawyers routinely monitor jurisdictions in every election. This year, the federal monitors were at 64 communities in 24 states. In the two states, the monitors stayed outside.
On Tuesday, officials in Georgia’s Fulton County said they removed two poll workers – a woman and her son – from their positions before polls opened Tuesday because of something the woman had posted on social media. What she said was not disclosed.