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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher November 4, 2020

Sharpiegate, voter fraud claim in Arizona is False

If Your Time is short

  • Voters could use ink pens to fill out their ballots, but the county gave Sharpie markers to voters because ballots filled in with Sharpie pens are processed more precisely by voting machines.

The Sharpie, a pen its manufacturer describes as "born for unique, unruly, courageous, outrageous self-expression that never, ever fades from glory," has made its mark on the 2020 presidential election.

In an Election Night Facebook post labeled "Tonight's voting shenanigans," a woman in Maricopa County, Ariz., where Phoenix is the county seat, appears to be being interviewed. But it’s not clear by whom. 

The woman claims she witnessed inside her polling place election workers forcing some voters to use Sharpie permanent markers to mark their ballots — and that those ballots were not being read by the voting machines.

The suggestion from the man questioning the woman was that this was an effort to block the votes of people supporting President Donald Trump — since people voting in person on Election Day have been considered more likely to support Trump over Joe Biden.

(The Associated Press called Arizona for Biden early on Nov. 4, reporting that he sealed his victory in the state due to his performance in Maricopa County. Other media outlets have yet to call the race.)

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It turns out the Maricopa County Elections Department was prescient about what some are calling Sharpie-gate.

Featured Fact-check

On Oct. 24, the elections department posted on YouTube a video labeled: "Can I use a Sharpie on my Ballot? Maricopa County Voters can use a Sharpie to Mark their Ballot." By Nov. 4, it had more than 1,000 views.

An animated figure named Phil the Ballot introduces the video. The narrator says: 

"Did you know you can use a black or blue pen or Sharpie to fill out your ballot in Maricopa County? The new tabulation equipment only reads the oval, so bleed-throughs are not a problem….

"At the vote center, you may notice fine-tip Sharpies are used. That’s because it’s the fastest-drying ink and works best on the tabulation equipment. If you’re filling out your ballot at home, you can use blue or black ink with ball-point pen or Sharpie. Just don’t use red ink. The tabulation equipment cannot read red."

In other words, the Sharpie is actually the preferred pen for filling out ballots in Maricopa County.

This claim is inaccurate. We rate it False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more. 

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Sharpiegate, voter fraud claim in Arizona is False

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