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VERIFY: Evidence suggests Sharpie markers have no impact on Arizona vote counting

Arizona election procedures have safeguards in place to ensure votes that machines cannot read are still counted, despite controversy online that's missing the mark.

Sharpie markers became a growing election controversy in Arizona, which is a swing state that could prove to be pivotal in declaring a victor.

Videos went viral of people talking about the usage of Sharpies in polling locations which allegedly invalidated ballots, with some even claiming Republicans were specifically targeted.

Currently, all evidence presented by election officials in Maricopa County, where the majority of Arizona voters live, and Arizona suggests that all ballots are being counted -- regardless of if they were marked with Sharpie or pen.

Nonetheless, Maricopa County’s election officials are investigating to double-check.

THE QUESTION

Did the usage of Sharpies in Arizona voting stations invalidate some votes?

THE ANSWER

The Arizona Secretary of State and Maricopa County Elections Department have said all votes are being counted, including ones marked with Sharpie. The Maricopa County Elections Department has been pushing for the usage of Sharpies because they say it works best with their new ballots.

All officials involved have said they have no reason to believe there was an issue with ballots that used Sharpies and the tabulation equipment.

WHAT WE FOUND

When asked on a local news station if ballots with Sharpies were being counted, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said, “Yes, those ballots are being counted.”

She described how there are already systems in place to count ballots with stray marks or other tabulation issues because voters filling out ballots at home use whatever they can find to fill them out. She said there are adjudication boards looking over any ballots the machines can’t read to determine the voters’ intent so the ballots are counted.

But Maricopa County ballots filled out with Sharpies should still be able to be read. 

A video posted online by the Maricopa County Elections Department described how voting sites may use fine point Sharpie pens because the new ballots used in the county were made to avoid problems caused by bleed-through and because Sharpie dries faster than pen ink, which works better for the tabulation machines.

Similar information has been posted on the county’s FAQ page. On that page they say, “Voters at home may use ballpoint pen in black or blue ink or a sharpie. Vote Centers use fine tip sharpies as they have the fastest drying ink, therefore preventing smudges when put through the Vote Center tabulation equipment. This is one of the upgrades of our new equipment and new ballots. Do not use red or red-adjacent ink.”

Page 201 and 202 of the Arizona Elections Procedures Manual describe how a ballot which the machine reads as “over-voted” (which a bleed-through issue could cause) or blank (which could be caused if the machine can’t read the ink used) will be sent to a Ballot Duplication Board so voter intent may be determined and the vote can be counted. This kind of manual counting and review process is also used in other instances, such as counting write-in votes.

Maricopa County further defended its ballots on Wednesday, reiterating that the ballots were designed not to have issues caused by bleeding and that Sharpie pens worked best. They also stressed they have bipartisan oversight of elections this year.

On Thursday, the Maricopa County Elections Department publicly confirmed Sharpies were used for all voting centers in the county.

The Arizona Attorney General, who is a Republican, told the Maricopa County Elections Department to investigate these claims and present their findings in writing by noon local time on Thursday.

By Thursday, his office had told the Maricopa County Elections Department, "at this point in time we have no reason to believe the tabulation equipment did not work properly." However, his office recommended they expand their usual hand count of the ballots to help alleviate concerns people have with the voting tabulation equipment.

There are other places around the United States where Sharpies are used for paper ballots and some states where voters are specifically told not to use Sharpies. At this moment, there are no other instances of widespread concern in other locations regarding the use of Sharpies to mark ballots.

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