By Tim Reid
PHOENIX (Reuters) -Problems with dozens of electronic vote-counting machines in the battleground state of Arizona on Tuesday were seized upon by Republican former President Donald Trump and his followers, who falsely claimed it was evidence of election fraud by Democrats.
Just a few hours into Election Day, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told reporters that about 20% of electronic vote tabulation machines in the state's most populous county were malfunctioning, and technicians were being deployed to fix them.
The problem was that ballots were not lining up properly inside the machines and were not being read, Richer said, adding that despite the problems all votes would be counted. Richer called the malfunctions "disappointing" and correctly predicted that election deniers such as Trump would "exploit" the issue.
Maricopa County officials said the problem affected about 60 machines at a quarter of voting locations in Maricopa County, and that by 2 p.m. - 8 hours after voting started - 17 had been fixed by changing the printer settings.
The state's Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, also seized on the machine problems, issuing a "voter alert" on her Twitter account. Lake has echoed Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.
Late in the day, a judge in Maricopa County rejected a Republican request to keep polls open past their usual closing time of 7 p.m. The judge said Republicans had provided no evidence that a voter was not able to cast a ballot because of the machine problems.
Trump posted a video to his Truth Social platform urging people in Arizona to "stay on line" if they were facing delays in voting.
Lake told reporters that she had encountered no issues when she voted in what she described as a left-leaning area of the city.
Trump, Lake and others have been calling for Election Day-only voting and for the end of electronic voting machines, promoting instead the use of just paper ballots and hand counts a process that is time-consuming, costly and far less accurate than machine counting.
Democrat Joe Biden narrowly beat Trump in Arizona in 2020. The state has been central in the false claims by Trump and his followers that the presidential election was rigged against him. All of Arizona's main Republican candidates this year are election deniers, including Lake.
"Reports are coming in from Arizona that the Voting Machines are not properly working in predominately Republican/Conservative areas," Trump said in a post on Truth Social, adding: "Here we go again? The people will not stand for it!!"
Barbara Russell, 70, a volunteer Republican poll observer at a voting location in Wickenburg, a town in rural Maricopa County, told Reuters that both tabulation machines there had been malfunctioning and rejecting ballots.
"This is the total disenfranchisement of rural voters," Russell told Reuters.
Paul Penzone, the Maricopa County Sheriff, said additional deputies had been deployed to polling locations. Barricades were erected around the county's elections office in central Phoenix in anticipation of potential protests.
(Reporting by Tim Reid in Phoenix; additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Tyler Clifford, Susan Heavey and Jacqueline Thomsen; editing by Ross Colvin, Will Dunham, and Jonathan Oatis)