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Voting Glitches, Website Attack Trigger Election Day Misinformation

A vote tabulation glitch in Arizona’s Maricopa County and an attempted takedown of voter-facing websites in Mississippi prompted a flurry of election misinformation and efforts from officials to set the record straight.

Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa Board of Supervisors, speaks about voting machine malfunctions at the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022 in Phoenix. A day after the midterm elections, Arizona election officials continue counting votes in close state races. (John Moore/Getty Images/TNS)
John Moore/TNS
(TNS) — A technical glitch in vote tabulation machines in Arizona and an attempted takedown of voter-facing websites in Mississippi led to a surge of misinformation about broken systems, but the setbacks largely didn’t affect voting or counting on Election Day.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County — the state’s largest — dozens of vote tabulation machines malfunctioned on Tuesday, affecting about 20 percent of polling places. The machines were fixed by late afternoon, but state officials said that did not prevent voters from casting their ballots.

In Mississippi, some election-related websites that provide information to voters faced an attack because of a sudden increase in volume of traffic, typically a sign of a distributed denial-of-service attack, known as DDoS. State officials said the websites were not compromised and didn’t affect any internal election processes.

A Russian hacking group claimed on the messaging platform Telegram that it had targeted Mississippi, USA Today reported, citing messages it had seen on the platform.

The glitches fed an online disinformation campaign by former President Donald Trump and his Republican supporters, who alleged that the machine malfunction in Arizona was an attempt to disenfranchise Republican voters.

On his Truth Social site, Trump alleged that the malfunction in Arizona was a “complete Voter Integrity DISASTER.” Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative political group Turning Point USA, on Twitter alleged that long lines in Maricopa County were a “traffic jam by design.”

Election officials in both states rejected such allegations. Two officials at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which was monitoring potential attacks on election machinery, told reporters late Tuesday that they saw no evidence of any coordinated campaign to disrupt the midterms, and attributed the minor setbacks to typical Election Day glitches.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office said the state’s election system was not compromised in any way.

Trump also tried to raise doubts about absentee ballots in Detroit, claiming on Truth Social that the situation in the city is “REALLY BAD,” and asking his supporters to “Protest, Protest, Protest!”

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson rejected Trump’s allegations on Twitter, telling the former president: “Please don’t spread lies to foment or encourage political violence in our state. Or anywhere.”, a nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of voters, said a “harmless data error” resulted in a glitch at some Detroit polling precincts that incorrectly registered some in-person voters as having already been issued an absentee ballot. The group cited city election officials. FactCheck said the issue was resolved and ballot safeguards were in place to prevent duplicate voting.

As of Wednesday morning, the outcomes for several House and Senate races are yet to be called, and control of Congress remains undetermined.

Election security watchers said state and local officials handled the day well.

“Overall election officials exhibited more resilience than ever before in a number of ways, especially in the face of so much disinformation,” Pam Smith, president of Verified Voting, a nonprofit group that advocates for reliable voting systems, said in a statement.

“No election is certified until all canvassing procedures are complete, and this year is no exception,” Smith said. “There are good reasons for this post-election certification window.”

In Arizona, the malfunctioning tabulation machines were not accepting ballots and officials said they asked voters to drop off their ballots in a secure box to be counted later or to go to another location to vote.

“Everyone is still getting to vote. No one has been disenfranchised,” Bill Gates, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors and a Republican, told reporters in Phoenix, NBC News reported.

“We have hiccups,” Gates said, according to NBC News. “They had a hiccup with the Powerball drawing last night, right?” he said, referring to a delay in the lottery drawing. Arizona voters should “feel good because they see the type of redundancies that we have in place,” he was quoted as saying.

©2022 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.