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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 1, 2022

No, pens provided by Arizona election officials aren’t part of a plot to rig state primary

If Your Time is short

  • Maricopa County will provide Pentel pens in voting booths for Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary. County elections officials say these pens help the voting process because they dry quickly.
  • Voters feed their ballots into tabulation equipment after voting in person in Maricopa. If the ink is wet, residue can build up inside the tabulator and require cleaning.

Remember Sharpiegate, the baseless 2020 election fraud claim that made Maricopa County, Arizona, an election night social media sensation?

Viral videos claimed that ballots marked with Sharpie pens were being invalidated. We found that False.

RELATED VIDEO

 

As voters head to the polls again for Arizona’s Aug. 2 primary, a similar claim is raising election skeptics’ ire, this time about the Pentel felt-tip pens Maricopa is providing.

One Twitter user suggested the pens were a tool to rig elections by Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a Republican. 

"#SharpieGate all over again in AZ. Bring your ball-point pens. Make sure that there’s no bleed-through on your ballot to avoid adjudication," wrote one person on Twitter. "@stephen_richer is hoping you trip up the rigged election software so he and his TREASONISTS can rig the primaries."

Another Twitter user advised voters to "use your own pen."

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, a Republican primary candidate for secretary of state, and Republican state Sen. Wendy Rogers, also suggested there is something problematic with Maricopa’s pens.

We’ll get right to the point: We found no evidence that the pens are a plot to rig the elections. 

Maricopa officials chose the pens because the ink dries quickly

Maricopa County has used Pentel felt-tip pens as the preferred ballot marking pen for decades, said Megan Gilbertson, spokesperson for Maricopa’s elections office. In 2020, the county moved to Sharpies because the ink was recommended by the election equipment manufacturer, Dominion Voting.

While claims that the pens caused ballot invalidation were wrong, Richer told PolitiFact Sharpies "caused more bleed-through than we like."

So the county tested out the Pentel pens and decided to use them instead.

"Because you are feeding your ballot directly into the tabulation equipment after voting, the ink needs to dry quickly so it doesn’t leave any residue that can build up inside the tabulator and necessitate cleaning midday," Richer said. "Ballpoint and gel pens leave more residue." 

Anything that causes election workers to stop and clean up the machines could slow down the process of voting. Another problem with slow-drying pens: They can smudge ovals that a voter doesn’t intend to mark.

Voters who cast a mail ballot can use any blue or black pen because the ink has time to dry before it arrives and goes through a tabulator, Richer said.

Most of the primary ballots are one-sided, so there isn’t typically an issue with bleed-through to the other side, Richer said. For any ballots with two sides, the columns are offset so that any bleedthrough wouldn’t interfere with tabulation.

Maricopa created a one-minute video showing the pens they provide to voters and how other pens can create problematic smudges. If voters show up on Election Day and insist on using their own blue or black pens, they will be allowed to do so. But poll workers have been advised to notify voters that the pen provided by the county is the best option, and if they use their own, they should allow it to dry. 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology political science professor Charles Stewart, an election technology expert, said there is no worry about pens with respect to security, but there are concerns when it comes to accuracy.

"It has been known for decades that smudging is a problem with ballots, both the printed ballots themselves and the pens used to mark them," Stewart said. "The Maricopa County video is 100% accurate in what it states. Voters ignore the advice at their peril."

We sent Maricopa’s video to two other experts on elections, Judd Choate, Colorado’s state election director, and Jennifer Morrell, a former election official in Utah and Colorado and a partner at The Elections Group, which consults on election administration. Both backed Maricopa’s explanation.

The claims about bleeding pens might sound amusing, but they are part of a never-ending stream of misinformation about elections that threaten the democratic process. The Arizona Republic reported that in the days surrounding the pen misinformation, Richer faced death threats

Richer has tried to debunk the misinformation on social media.

"It's a primary," Richer tweeted. "What the heck do you think we get out of giving people a special pen other than a smooth functioning election? Do you think we're just asking you to use the Pentel pen to be funny? Good lord people."

Our ruling

Social media users have suggested there is something wrong with the Pentel pens provided by Maricopa elections officials and that they are part of a plot to rig the Arizona primary Aug. 2.

The county tested the pens and found they dry quickly, which helps during in-person voting when voters feed their ballots into the tabulation machine. If voters use a pen that doesn’t dry quickly, it can smudge the ballot or muck up the tabulation machine, requiring cleaning and slowing the voting process.

We found no evidence the pens are part of a nefarious scheme by election officials. 

We rate this statement False.

RELATED: Despite #sharpiegate, no evidence of plot to use the pens to cancel Trump votes

RELATED: Voting by mail has been popular in Arizona for decades. Now the state GOP wants to ban it

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about Arizona

RELATED: All of our fact-checks about elections

Our Sources

AP, Pen misinformation bleeds into Arizona primary, July 28, 2022

Adel, Tweet, July 28, 2022

Annabella, Tweet, July 12, 2022

State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, Tweet, July 27, 2022

State Sen. Wendy Rogers, Tweet, July 27, 2022

Arizona Republic opinion, Nutty Pentel Pen Plot = Death threats for Maricopa County's elections chief, July 28, 2022

AP, Pen misinformation bleeds into Arizona primary, July 28, 2022

Arizona Axios reporter Jeremy Duda, Tweet, July 27, 2022

12News, Kari Lake's allegations 'beyond irresponsible' July 31, 2022

Maricopa County Elections, Tweet, July 28, 2022

Maricopa County Elections, Video, July 26, 2022

Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, Tweet, July 27, 2022

Email interview, Stephen Richer, Maricopa County Recorder, Aug. 1, 2022

Telephone interview, Megan Gilbertson, Maricopa County elections department spokesperson, Aug. 1, 2022

Email interview, Judd Choate, Colorado’s state election director, Aug. 1, 2022

Email interview, Jennifer Morrell, a former elections official in Utah and Colorado and a partner at The Elections Group, Aug. 1, 2022

Email interview, Charles Stewart, MIT political science professor, Aug. 1, 2022

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No, pens provided by Arizona election officials aren’t part of a plot to rig state primary

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