Sharpies didn’t ruin ballots in Michigan. In fact, they’re often preferred

Michigan elections clerks have been bombarded with calls from residents ensuring their vote was counted because of a false rumor on social media that Sharpies spoil ballots. In fact, the felt-tip pens are often preferred. (Shutterstock photo)

In Michigan, Republican lawmakers and the state GOP are investigating a host of alleged irregularities about last week’s presidential election. 

Despite what you may have read on the internet, the use of Sharpies to mark ballots isn’t one of them.

Supporters of President Donald Trump for the past several days have taken to social media, claiming that ballots marked with felt-tipped Sharpies wouldn’t be counted by voting tabulators. The message quickly spread to battleground states, including Michigan. 

The false claims were fueled by pro-Trump Facebook groups that shared videos of voters in Maricopa County, Arizona — a state that Democrat Joe Biden is projected to win — alleging they had trouble scanning ballots after using the marker. 

This prompted a group of voters to file a lawsuit against Maricopa County election officials, which the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee joined, alleging that tabulatators were unable to record the ballots of voters who used a county-issued Sharpie. 

The suit was dropped just hours after the Associated Press and other news outlets on Saturday projected that Biden had enough electoral votes to become the 46th president.

Still, Trump supporters across the country and some conservative leaders, such as American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp, endorsed the misinformation, labeling the controversy “#Sharpiegate.” 

In Michigan, the day after Election Day, several Republican activists took up the message on social media. 

If you were given a black Sharpie marker to fill out your ballot, call the MI number below to report your polling location!” one Northville woman posted on Facebook. “The machines will successfully count your ballot but possibly not your vote.” 

The Sharpie rumors aren’t new. During the 2018 midterm election, some Michiganders wondered whether their vote would be counted after they used the marker. 

Several local Republican and Democratic clerks confirmed to Bridge Michigan that the use of a Sharpie to mark a ballot does not invalidate a ballot or vote. 

To say otherwise is misinformation, the Michigan Secretary of State's Office said.

Justin Roebuck, Ottawa County clerk, a Republican, said he’s never received so many calls from concerned residents wanting to make sure their vote counted. He said Trump has contributed to the problem.  

“When misinformation is spread from the top down from the leader of a political party, it becomes very difficult for those followers to discern between what's factual and what's not,” Roebuck said.

Roebuck and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said fine-point black Sharpie markers are the preferred ballot-marking device. 

“Some clerks went the route of disposable pens,” said Byrum, a Democrat. “That might have been one of the primary reasons for the ballot jamming issues that we saw around the county.”

This is because Sharpies dry quickly and don’t leave residue on the ballot scanner, Roebuck said. Still, ballots marked with blue and black ink pens are counted as well. 

If the marker does bleed through to the other side, ballots are designed so that the bleed through does not touch or come near a voting area on the other side of the ballot. 

Some Republican members of the Michigan Legislature have already addressed the Sharpie controversy.  

On Saturday, when the Legislature used subpoena power to demand records from the state’s Nov. 3 election, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who chairs the Senate Oversight Committee, said the Legislature’s inquiry will be a chance to publicly vet allegations to see what is true, and what is not. 

The "felt-tip markers versus ballpoint pen controversy" that was "obviously not true" is one of the claims that has already been debunked, he said. 

"[We] worked hard with many clerks across the state, Democrat and Republican alike, to dispel that and set aside that fear," McBroom said at the hearing. "I hope that we will continue to be able to do that with some of these other things that have come forward." 

This article is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. This article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


GOP cons
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 4:30pm

All the debunking falls on deaf ears. Republicans cheat and lie. It's the only way they can win. Their specialty is voter suppression.

Sharpie sniffing
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 4:36pm

I smell GOP desperation!

Lawn order
Tue, 11/10/2020 - 7:51pm

On Saturday, when the Legislature used subpoena power to demand records from the state’s Nov. 3 election, Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, who chairs the Senate Oversight Committee, said the Legislature’s inquiry will be a chance to publicly vet allegations to see what is true, and what is not.

So what the subpoenas are all about is getting to the bottom of a bunch of Republican conspiracies and finding out if any of them have merit?

Well I'll be darned!

What happens if you find out a bunch of people signed legally binding affidavits that weren't true?

Signing an affidavit that contains false information can subject the affiant to criminal penalties. Therefore, before signing, it is very important to read the document carefully to ensure that the information is accurate and truthful. If the affidavit includes any statements that are the opinion or belief of the affiant, the fact that it is opinion or belief needs to be clearly stated.

I hope they got their ducks in a row.

P,S, #sharpiegate is when President Trump used a sharpie to defend his determination that hurricane Dorian went into Alabama.

But I see this has taken over a lot of the results now. Hmm? Trying to wash out truth and history are we? Why not? You are trying to wash our votes down the river too.

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 9:22am

The buffoon president Trump is being trolled again by patriots on tik tok:

TikTokers post videos of themselves appearing to troll Trump voter fraud hotline
A woman told the hotline she had gone down to Georgia and "I was in line to vote and ... this guy challenged me to a fiddle competition."

In one account it seems the Hamburglar stole some votes in Philadelphia only to be stopped when he ran into quick-drying cement.

Rest assured, while the Trump victory farce persists among Trump sycophants, Trump and all his staff/cronies are looking for new jobs. No one is waiting for the fat man to sing!

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 10:39am

WTF is Trump doing at the defense department?

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 10:43am

Why are all the states where Republicans are in charge of elections conspiring to stop Trump? Can anyone explain?

Let's be honest, Trump IS the deep state and fed by Q-Anon, Putin, and other mobster money-launderers who need Trump.

Busy busy busy
Wed, 11/11/2020 - 10:50am

Covid-19 be damned.

Trump's schedule:

Most of his day will be watching tv and tweeting, just like every other day, maybe he will get a little golf in there, if he doesn't have much heartburn, maybe send out a few resumes.

Happy Veteran's Day!

No joke
Wed, 11/11/2020 - 12:13pm

Trump lost by over 4.5 million votes. If you go to, it links directly to Trump's wikipedia page. America voted and moved on.

Carole Christensen
Wed, 11/11/2020 - 1:03pm

As I see it, this could be easily fixed IF the ballots didn't say "use ONLY a blue or black pen."

It should read use ANY pen, Any Sharpie, Any pencil then no one would think twice when they are given a Green pen, Sharpie or a Pencil (yes a pencil, it too has happened).

Quit blaming the Trump supporters they are not in charge of what the ballots say. Blame who is in charge of how the ballots read.

Wed, 11/11/2020 - 5:57pm

Trump is such a whiny loser. He needs to man up, grow a pair.