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Ballots marked with Sharpie pens were not invalidated in Arizona

November 4, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Votes were eliminated in Arizona because people were made to use Sharpie pens to mark their ballots. This caused the tabulation machine to cancel the vote.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Sharpies were allowed in Arizona but they do not affect the vote. And even if a ballot could not be read by a tabulation machine, it would be reviewed by a board that re-examines the ballots.The vote would not be canceled. 

THE FACTS: Following the race call on Wednesday that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had flipped the Republican-stronghold of Arizona, social media posts circulated suggesting that their votes for Trump were canceled because they were told to use Sharpies at their polling site.  


Arizona election officials confirmed that Sharpies were allowed, and they would not invalidate a ballot. The Maricopa County Elections Department tweeted on Election Day that voting centers use Sharpies so that ink does not smudge when ballots are counted. 

“New offset columns on the ballots means bleed through won’t impact your vote!” they tweeted in an informational video. 

One video with more than 821,0000 views shows a woman speaking about how four different polling places were using Sharpies and a man asks her if “those ballots are not being counted” and “are invalid.”

“They are invalidating votes is what they are doing,” the man says. He went on to suggest voters use a ballpoint pen instead. 

“People are coming here to vote for Donald Trump and all those votes are getting invalidated,” he says in the video. 

Sophia Solis, public information officer for the Arizona Secretary of State, said in an email that votes would not be canceled if there was an issue with the ballot. 

According to the state’s election procedures manual, a ballot review board duplicates ballots which cannot be read by the machine. 

“This may include crumpled or otherwise damaged ballots, ballots with smudged ink, or ballots which are marked in the wrong color of ink or with a device that cannot be read by the tabulation machine,” the manual states.


On Tuesday, Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes commented on a tweet by a person who said that their ballot looked messy because of a bleed-through, assuring the person that it would not affect tabulation.  

“Vote Centers use sharpies for the fastest drying ink, to prevent smudges going through the tabulation equipment,” he said. “This is an upgrade of our new equipment & ballots. Bleed thru does not affect tabulation because the columns are offset & the machines can only read the bubbles.”

Some posts online shared a photo of their voter information on the Arizona election dashboard where the ballot status was marked “canceled,” and pointed to it as reason to believe votes by Trump supporters were being invalidated because they were told to use a Sharpie. 

 “WOW! Pass this on: people’s ballots in Arizona are being labeled as CANCELED! What is going on?,” stated a post using a photo from the Arizona election website. It was retweeted more than 6,000 times.  

Another post with 12,000 retweets said, “Breaking news in Arizona. Voters were given Sharpies purposefully to mark their ballots so it would void their votes in Queen Creek and Gilbert. @PressSec I’ve said hundreds of times Arizona has a massive scale voter fraud problem every single election. SOMEBODY PLEASE LISTEN!!!”

Social media users sharing the false posts labeled the conspiracy #sharpiegate. 

Republican congressman Paul Gosar, added his voice to the sharpie claims Wednesday with a tweet that said he was reaching out to the state attorney general’s office.

“I’ve just requested @GeneralBrnovich to look into this issue,” he said. “We can not tolerate voter fraud in Arizona. #Election2020.” 

“If a voter’s ballot is listed as canceled, it usually means the voter made an additional ballot request if they needed to have their original ballot replaced,” Solis said. “Depending on when they returned their replacement ballot, that ballot is most likely still being processed by the county.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: