As vote-counting carried over into November 4 2020, disinformation about uncalled states spread on social media — such as a claim that poll workers in Arizona distributed Sharpie markers to voters — and that ballots marked in Sharpie were spoiled.
Disinformation purveyor and Republican strategist Matt Schlapp — no stranger to interfering with elections — was one of the Twitter users amplifying the hoax, even linking to a PolitiFact article debunking claims that Arizona’s “Sharpie ballots” were uncounted as apparent evidence of some sort of conspiracy:
— Matt Schlapp (@mschlapp) November 4, 2020
Another high-engagement tweet demanded that Fox News “retract Arizona immediately,” presumably due to the Sharpie ballot non-controversy:
In the replies, fellow readers reiterated the claim that ballots completed with Sharpies in Arizona had been spoiled, and deliberately at that:
Google Trends indicated a huge spike in searches for “Arizona Sharpie votes, “Arizona votes,” “Arizona Sharpie fraud, “Sharpie Arizona, “Arizona voter fraud Sharpie,” “Arizona election Sharpie,” “Who is the president of the United States,” and simply “Sharpie fraud”:
Interest was, as expected, concentrated in the state of Arizona. A top comment on a thread from u/Get_Wrecked01 linked to a quote from a Maricopa County election information page:
I live in AZ and while it is true that sharpies were being used at polling places it is false that ballots marked in sharpie are not counted. Here is a quote straight from the County Recorder website for Maricopa County:
12. Do I need a special pen to mark my ballot?
Voters at home may use a 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.
A FAQ page was linked and accurately quoted in the above comment; Sharpie-brand markers are explicitly listed as an acceptable writing implement to complete a ballot from home or at a polling place:
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.
In a Facebook post, PolitiFact emphasized not only that the claims about Sharpie invalidation were false, but that Sharpies are preferred because they are less likely to spoil a ballot:
It’s not clear precisely how the rumor about Sharpie markers and Arizona ballots got started (although we certainly have our ideas), but as lingering states were called, it was likely that disinformation purveyors would attempt to leverage the rumor to further create chaos and uncertainty about incoming election results. According to Arizona election officials, Sharpie markers do not spoil ballots, and the brand was recommended because of its lower likelihood of smudging.