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New election conspiracy centers on email from an election official reminding workers of a new policy

By: - November 19, 2020 4:06 pm

Photo by Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror

The right-wing Twittersphere continues to be outraged that Maricopa County voters were handed Sharpie markers to fill out their ballots on Election Day, and has now incorrectly seized on an email from a county election official as “evidence” that the markers were intended to cheat President Donald Trump out of reelection.

In the Oct. 22 email, Kelly Dixon, the assistant director for the Election Department’s recruitment and training division told election “troubleshooters” that she’s aware of “issues and concerns” from voters about Sharpies that had been used in early voting centers, and that they should instead hand out ballpoint pens until early voting concluded on Nov. 2.

“Starting tomorrow, 10/23, and through 11/2, we are asking that Clerks hand voters BALLPOINT PENS rather than markers. We NEED to use Markers on Election Day, but for now and through 11/2, hand voters a Ballpoint Pen,” Dixon wrote.

To right-wing activists like Bryan Masche and other pro-Trump social media users, the email is proof that Sharpies were used on Election Day in order to invalidate votes for Trump — a theory that was first debunked on Election Day when it began to circulate online.

“What I want to know is, what law enforcement officer in Phoenix, Arizona is going to take this up?” Masche said in a Facebook video where he shared the email before a crowd of Trump supporters protesting outside of the County Board of Supervisors office. Masche claims to have forwarded the email to Trump’s legal team. 

Sharpies were used at Election Day polling places for the first time ever this year because they performed the best in tests of new ballot-counting machines conducted by Maricopa County and state elections officials. The manufacturer also recommends Sharpies. 

The reason is that Sharpie ink dries quickly — a necessity when a voter at a polling place has to walk only a few paces from the voting booth to the ballot-counting machine. But a different process is used at early voting locations, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa Elections Department.

“During in-person early voting, voters were given the option to use a ballpoint pen to fill out their ballot because those ballots are placed in a sealed envelope, allowing the ink to dry before its verified, processed and tabulated at the Elections Department,” she said. 

“Troubleshooters were told that voters may use ball point pens to fill out early ballots. This is consistent with early ballot instructions mailed to voters,” Gilbertson added. “But for Election Day, in alignment with Election Department policy, poll workers and troubleshooters were trained and reminded to use Sharpies to ensure the ink dries before its placed into the tabulation machine.”

Despite the simple explanation, the claim that the email proves malfeasance has found traction in right-wing social media. Masche’s video has been shared more than 400 times and has more than 7,000 views. Ron Watkins, a former moderator of the controversial site 8kun and son of QAnon conspiracy theorist Jim Watkins — who some believe is actually the person posing as Q — has also retweeted the email, garnered more than 16,000 retweets

Others on social media have taken more aggressive stances with people sharing the social media profiles of Dixon, leading her to delete her Twitter account. 

Some Twitter users have been calling Dixon’s office phone and leaving messages, while others have been calling for her arrest. Gilbertson said that the threats had been passed on to law enforcement.

“The threats made against a Maricopa County Elections Department employee for following policy is abhorrent and not acceptable,” she said. “The safety of staff is a top priority for the Elections Department and we have forwarded all concerning communication to law enforcement.

The Secretary of State’s Office has had to put its phones onto an automated answering system due to an influx of abusive and threatening phone calls related to election conspiracy theories. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said she received death threats and even had a group of protesters show up at her home.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joined the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.