‘Sharpiegate’ sparks concern in Arizona amid split over whether state has been won by Biden and ugly scenes outside electoral office

Arizona has become one of the most-watched states in the nation

Harriet Alexander
Thursday 05 November 2020 16:26 GMT
Trump supporters gathered at key Arizona vote counting chant 'We want Trump"

Arizona was firmly in the spotlight on Thursday after a tense night of ballot counting, which saw heavily-armed Trump supporters gather outside some electoral offices, and election officials try to debunk a wild “Sharpiegateconspiracy theory.

The attention on the state has been intense since Fox News became the first to call it for Joe Biden, at around 10:30pm on Tuesday. Donald Trump was reportedly so incensed by the decision he picked up the phone to Rupert Murdoch, to “scream at him and demand a retraction,” Vanity Fair reported. Mr Murdoch refused, and AP later followed Fox in calling the state.

CNN and NBC are yet to declare the result in Arizona, deciding that it remains too close to call.

On Thursday morning Mr Biden was ahead by 68,390 votes, CNN reported.

Follow live: US election 2020 results, updates and analysis

Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said her state has just under 450,000 ballots left to count, with about 300,000 of those coming from the state’s most populous area, Maricopa County - an area which encompasses Phoenix and is home to half the state’s population.

Ms Hobbs, in an interview on NBC, said she did not yet have an estimate about how long it would take to count the remaining votes but hopes to have an update later on Thursday.

In a separate interview on ABC, she said she does not expect the result to be so close as to merit a recount. Under the state’s rules, a recount is triggered if the margin between candidates is less than or equal to 0.1 per cent of the votes cast - a smaller margin than Wisconsin’s 1 per cent, where the Trump campaign has already said it wants a recount, and Georgia’s 0.5 per cent, where a recount may be sought.

Maricopa County counted more than 100,000 ballots on Wednesday, which could be an indication of the pace of the counting for the remaining votes, Ms Hobbs said. If the county were to continue at the rate, it could take up to three days to finish tabulating all the outstanding ballots.

Ugly scenes unfolded in Maricopa County on Wednesday night, as Trump supporters gathered to chant: “Count the vote!”

Social media was awash with rumours that the election officials had been intimidated into closing their offices early, but Maricopa County confirmed via Twitter that they were still hard at work, undeterred by the hubbub outside.

Officials in Arizona were also dealing with unfounded anger aimed at Sharpie felt-tipped pens, which were used in some areas to mark ballots, and which the internet said was part of a plan to make Republican area votes not counted because the felt tip pen bled through the paper.

Arizona election officials confirmed that Sharpies were used in voting, but they said that would not invalidate a ballot. 

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.

That did not stop the rumours, however. One woman was so concerned she stood outside a polling station handing out ballpoint pens, until election officials asked her to move on.

Clint Hickman, the Republican chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and Steve Gallardo, the board’s only Democrat, published a letter to voters expressing concern about misinformation. 

They said officials tested a wide variety of pens with their vote-tabulation equipment and “Sharpies are recommended by the manufacturer because they provide the fastest-drying 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.

They were not helped by Republicans.

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.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office sent a letter to Maricopa County election officials Wednesday demanding answers about which voting centers used the Sharpies and how many votes were rejected because of issues with the Sharpie ink.

A woman in the Phoenix area filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging vote tabulation equipment was unable to record her ballot because she completed it with a county-issued Sharpie pen. The lawsuit alleged Laurie Aguilera asked poll workers for a new ballot, but they refused her request.

She is seeking a court order that all Maricopa County voters whose ballots were rejected as a result of using a Sharpie be given a chance to fix their ballots. Ms Aguilera also is asking for such voters to be able to be present while election officials count their ballots.

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