CLAIM: There was fraud in California’s recall election because voters were given Sharpie pens or other permanent markers, which is illegal and will invalidate ballots.
THE FACTS: As voters cast their ballots across California on Tuesday and rejected an effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom, social media users revived a months-old falsehood that marking your vote in Sharpie or marker was illegal, would render the ballot unreadable or would “force an invalid ballot.” One widely viewed post expressed horror that Bay Area voters were given a “black magic marker” at the polls. Similar claims about Sharpie pens invalidating ballots also emerged after the 2020 election and were swiftly debunked then by both election officials and election technology firms. “Sharpie pens are safe and reliable to use on ballots, and recommended due to their quick-drying ink,” reads a Nov. 5 statement from Dominion Voting Systems. “Regarding potential ink bleed-through, Dominion’s systems never allow for the creation of ballots with overlapping vote bubbles between the front and back pages of a ballot.” Many California counties used Dominion Voting Systems technology to tabulate ballots cast in Tuesday’s recall election. The company confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that its earlier statements still applied. Jenna Dresner, spokesperson for California’s Office of Election Cybersecurity, told the AP that “using a Sharpie will not invalidate a ballot.”
While the Secretary of State’s office recommends using blue or black ink, Dresner said there is no law that states what kind of writing utensil must be used to fill out a ballot. “In the event the voting tabulation system is unable to determine the voter’s selections, the tabulator is designed to sort the ballots into a separate pile to be reviewed manually to determine voter intent,” Dresner said. John Arntz, the director of elections in San Francisco, said the Dominion scanners his office uses are programmed to identify where the voting targets are on each ballot and can determine which bubbles are filled in by detecting pixels. “The system is very sensitive. You could use a Sharpie, you could use a felt-tip pen, a ballpoint pen, a pencil, just about any color except red will get picked up well by this system,” Arntz said.
He said it has long been considered a best practice to have voting targets staggered on the two sides of a ballot so that ink bleed-through will not be a factor, and Dominion scanners only work with ballots designed that way. “If someone were to, let’s say, use a Sharpie and just lay that Sharpie on that voting target and let it bleed for a minute, there is no overlap with the target on the other side,” Arntz said.