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People waiting to vote at a polling location in Peoria, Ariz, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.CAITLIN O'HARA/The New York Times News Service

Widespread malfunctions with election tabulating machines caused confusion, frustration and long lines in one of the most closely watched voting districts in the U.S.

Machines at roughly a quarter of the voting centres in Arizona’s Maricopa County experienced intermittent issues in which they spit back out some ballots without counting them. Eight hours after polls opened, county officials said the problem appeared to be related to printers that “were not producing dark enough timing marks on the ballots.” A change to printer settings had resolved the issue at some locations, they said.

“I would not say that this is a disaster. This is a hiccup,” Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, told The Globe and Mail. “We feel bad about this. We’re sorry that this happened,” he said. But “everyone who wants to vote is getting to vote and everyone who votes – their vote is going to count.”

Still, by evening people continued to wait in long, slow-moving lines at some locations.

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The raft of problems prompted a Republican legal intervention, demanding a court order to extend voting by three hours to 10 p.m. The Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, and candidates Blake Masters and Kari Lake filed a suit in Arizona’s superior court alleging problems that extended beyond technical glitches.

“Numerous individuals presenting to vote at some or all of these locations were unlawfully induced by poll workers to discard their ballots or otherwise forfeit their opportunity to cast a legally sufficient vote,” the suit alleges.

A judge ruled against the Republican plaintiffs minutes before polls closed at 7 p.m.

Voting problems will, however, delay some election reporting, as ballots that aren’t tabulated by the machines today will not be counted until tomorrow, he said. Maricopa County still intends to report the results of about 840,000 ballots by 8 p.m. local time, and Mr. Gates said he continues to expect 95 to 99 per cent of votes to be counted by Friday.

The problems are appearing in a state where many conservatives, including prominent candidates for office, believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Some are suspicious of electronic tabulators, disregarding the evidence that shows such devices produce highly accurate counts. Maricopa County formed the heart of multi-million-dollar efforts led by conservative groups to audit the results of the 2020 election.

Difficulties in voting Tuesday only added to those suspicions.

“People need to be arrested for what is happening in Maricopa County,” Charlie Kirk, a prominent far-right activist in Arizona, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “It’s criminal.”

On News Talk 550, a right-wing talk radio show in Phoenix, host Rob Hunter said voting problems Tuesday have further eroded electoral trust. “People are going to cry foul. So now we have to live through two more years of fraudulent election talk,” he said. “Now it doesn’t matter who wins. Now it’s tainted,” added co-host Mike Russell.

Republicans have criticized early voting as a source of problems, which has made day-of voting particularly important to the party. “Republicans are outnumbering Democrats at the polls right now,” Mr. Masters, the party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate, told AM550. He accused the state’s Democrats of being thrilled by the voting problems, which he attributed to incompetence or malfeasance.

Democratic candidates spent Tuesday urging people to cast ballots.

Some voters were sanguine about the problems. An electronic tabulator is “the same kind of Scantron machine they use at a school, which also fail all the time,” said Hailey Traynham. “Your computer doesn’t work. Your phone doesn’t work. It’s just part of using technology.”

Robotics engineer Jeff Doughty, who spent more than two hours trying and failing to have a scanner tabulate his vote, was less gracious.

He described a voting process that involved showing identification, waiting for a ballot printout and filling out circles on that ballot in blue ink. “Then you walk over to the machine — it’s a tabulator. It basically scans that” ballot, he said. “Simple process.”

Only when he inserted his ballot, the machine returned an error. “So you turn it around, flip it around three or four times, and you scan it — and still the same thing happens,” he said.

“We’re talking, you can fill out a perfect ballot and put it in the machine and it doesn’t read it,” he said. Mr. Doughty eventually spoiled that ballot and used a touch-screen voting machine designed for those with accessibility needs. That worked.

“Can you imagine doing this for 2024, for a presidential election? This is just nuts,” he said.

“There’s either incompetence or negligence, one of the two,” he added.