Sharpies can be used on voting ballots in Arizona, officials say

State officials say ballots marked with Sharpie will be counted in Arizona, despite claims on social media that they would be rejected.

The controversy arose when people claimed their ballots were not being counted after using Sharpies provided by voting locations in Maricopa County.

Some people have claimed their ballot was canceled because of the Sharpies after checking online. Maricopa County officials say their "canceled" status is likely for people who had a mail-in ballot but chose to vote in person - effectively canceling their mail-in ballot.

One video with more than 821,000 views showed 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.

“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.”

While black and blue ink is highly encouraged to fill in the ballot bubbles, Sharpie is also accepted, according to Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Felt-tip pens are discouraged because the ink can bleed through the paper, but in Maricopa County, the bubble columns are offset so that bleeding ink will not impact a citizen's vote.

Maricopa County officials say they used fine-tip Sharpies in voting centers because they have the fastest-drying ink - this is crucial because the ballot is sent directly into the tabulation machine when voting in person.

According to the state’s election procedures manual, a ballot review board duplicates ballots that cannot be read by the machine in cases where they are damaged or smudged with ink.

Videos making the false claim about Sharpies were also widely shared on TikTok. TikTok said the claims on invalidated ballots violated its policy against misleading information around the elections and would be removed. Facebook said it has blocked the Sharpiegate hashtag on its platform and pointed to fact checks on the matter by its outside fact-checkers, including The Associated Press.

The United States Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has also dismissed the rumor, stating that election officials and poll workers are providing writing instruments that are approved for ballots for in-person voters.

"Although felt-tip pens, like Sharpies, may bleed through ballots, some election officials have stated that ballot tabulation equipment in their jurisdictions can still read these ballots. Many jurisdictions even design their ballots with offset columns to prevent any potential bleed through from impacting the ability to easily scan both sides of ballots," according to a statement from CISA. 

"If a ballot has issues that impact its ability to be scanned, it can be hand counted or duplicated, or adjudicated by election officials, who use defined procedures such as chain of custody to ensure protect ballot secrecy and integrity," authorities wrote.

Maricopa County officials, Arizona Attorney General speak out

In a statement signed by Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman and Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, officials say sharpies do not invalidate ballots.

"We did extensive testing on multiple different types of ink with our new vote tabulation equipment," read a portion of the statement. "Sharpies are recommended by the manufacturer because they provide the fastest-drying ink."

Officials also reminded voters that vote counting is not a Republican or Democrat issue.

"Everyone should want all the votes to be counted, whether they were mailed or cast in person," read a portion of the statement. "An accurate vote takes time. It's possible the results you see now may change after all the votes are counted. This is evidence of democracy, not fraud."

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said a letter has been sent to Maricopa County election officials regarding the use of Sharpies at polling locations.

"We have received hundreds of voter complaints regarding Sharpies at polling locations. Accordingly, we sent this letter to Maricopa County election officials. Let's get some answers," read a tweet from Brnovich.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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