In the vote-counting melee that followed on the heels of Election Day 2020 in the U.S., Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s apparent unexpected narrow win in the state of Arizona was among the many results targeted by conspiracy theories.
In that instance, the claim was that the use of Sharpie-brand pens, which had supposedly been offered to (only Republican) voters in some precincts, had invalidated the ballots on which they were used:
ARE MAIL IN BALLOTS BEING MODIFIED AS WE SPEAK IN CORRUPT DEM DISTRICTS? have you heard about Dems distributing sharpie pens to Trump voters and then invalidating their ballots?
— Michael Savage (@ASavageNation) November 4, 2020
AZ update: apparently the use of sharpie pens in gop precincts is causing ballots to be invalidated. Could be huge numbers of mostly Trump supporters. More to come
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) November 4, 2020
Batches of ballots are being uploaded.
100% for Joe Biden.
Massive #’s of ballots being invalidated in AZ as Trump supporters were told to use Sharpies.
This isn’t democracy.
We are being ruled over.
— Daniel Bostic (@debostic) November 4, 2020
People literally had their votes cancelled because they were given a sharpie at the polls.
Count those damn votes!
— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) November 4, 2020
How poll workers were able to identify which voters were Trump supporters and offer Sharpies only to them remains unexplained. In any case, the rumor was false, and Maricopa County officials had already debunked it partway through Election Day, before any vote-counting had begun:
Did you know we use Sharpies in the Vote Centers so the ink doesn’t smudge as ballots are counted onsite? New offset columns on the ballots means bleed through won’t impact your vote! Find a location before the polls close at 7 p.m. today at https://t.co/8YEmXbWyRL. pic.twitter.com/KKG2O8rQhf
— Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote) November 3, 2020
Moreover, Maricopa County put out a video ten days before the election explaining that voters could use Sharpies to mark their ballots:
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs also stated the morning following Election Day that ballots marked with Sharpie pens would indeed be counted:
— Zachary Petrizzo (@ZTPetrizzo) November 4, 2020
In response to a request for information from the Arizona Attorney General’s office “concerning the use and effect of Sharpie brand markers at Maricopa County Voting Centers,” the Maricopa County Elections Department stated the following:
Sharpie markers are recommended by the manufacturer of Maricopa County’s vote tabulation machines as the preferred way to mark ballots for use in those machines. Ink from ballpoint pens can cause smudges in the machines and foul them, while Sharpie markers do not. Furthermore, Maricopa County’s ballots are designed in such a way that any “bleed through” caused by the ink cannot create false votes or cause a voter’s intended vote to be miscounted.
Sharpie markers are recommended by the manufacturer of Maricopa County's vote tabulation machines as the preferred way to mark ballots for use in those machines. Below is our response to the Arizona Attorney General's request for more information. https://t.co/SRH9zxcGy5 pic.twitter.com/hN7kqTG1tw
— Maricopa County Elections Department (@MaricopaVote) November 5, 2020
According to the Maricopa County Recorder’s website, “voters at home may use ballpoint pen in black or blue ink or a sharpie.” The only warning offered on the site was against the use of “red and red-adjacent ink.”