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

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.

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