Did ink bleeding through ballots impact vote tallies in the 2020 election in Maricopa County, Arizona? No, that's not true: Even if a voter's ballot marks do bleed through from one side of a ballot to another, they don't impact the tally, according to county officials. Officials point to the fact that the ballots have off-centered columns, so any potential bleeding from one side of the ballot wouldn't accidentally fill out ovals on the other side.
The claim appeared in a meme (archived here) on Facebook on July 15, 2021. The meme was one in a series by The America Project, an organization created by Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. The group promotes the idea that the 2020 election was stolen or rigged and raises money to help fund audits, like the one taking place in Maricopa County. The meme read:
GUILTY! ARIZONA SENATE DEBUNKS THE LEFT'S 'BIG LIE'
MARICOPA WAS SUPPOSED TO USE 'VOTESECURE' PAPER THAT SHOULD NOT BLEED THROUGH
THE BALLOTS SHOW THERE WAS BLEED THROUGH WHICH COULD CANCEL THE BALLOTS
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Fri Jul 16 18:32:02 2021 UTC)
The Maricopa County Elections Department has said that all counted ballots are printed on VoteSecure paper. At the time of writing, it wasn't immediately clear whether that type of paper is designed to prevent all ink bleeds, as the claim implies.
The Rumor Control web page of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which the Trump administration put in charge of protecting the 2020 election against hacks and other tampering, explains the bleed-through question as follows:
... Many jurisdictions even design their ballots with offset columns to prevent any potential bleed through from impacting the ability to easily scan both sides of ballots.
If a ballot has issues that impact its ability to be scanned, it can be hand counted or duplicated, or adjudicated by election officials, who use defined procedures such as chain of custody to ensure protect ballot secrecy and integrity. Many states additionally have 'voter intent' laws that allow for ballots to be counted even when issues such as bleed-throughs or stray marks are present, as long as the voter's intent can still be determined.
Maricopa County uses off-centered columns, and tabulators only read what's in the ovals, according to county officials. Maricopa County addressed the claim on its Twitter page:
This accuracy is verified through logic and accuracy tests, hand counts performed by the political parties, and post-election audits performed by EAC certified voting testing laboratories. #SharpieGate has been debunked already.-- Maricopa County (@maricopacounty) July 16, 2021
The claim in the July 2021 meme recycles one that circulated right after Election Day in Maricopa County. The earlier claim alleged that ballots marked with Sharpie pens were disqualified. That's not true. In fact, Sharpies are preferred because the ink dries fast and they do not smudge the tabulators.
The above meme was created in the aftermath of an Arizona Senate briefing on the election audit in Maricopa, Arizona's most populous county. The July 15, 2021, public hearing was billed as an update on the audit, which was commissioned by Republicans in the state Senate. The audit was ongoing at the time this fact check was written.
Lead Stories has previously reported on one of the other memes, which claimed that more than 74,000 mail-in ballots were received and counted than were mailed out for the election in Maricopa. That's not true. According to county officials, the claim relies on muddling mailed ballots together with all early voting ballots and then comparing all of them to the number mailed out. Early voting happens in two ways. People can either vote by mail or vote in person at vote centers. People who vote at centers are given ballots there, meaning that the total of early votes could very well be greater than the number of ballots mailed out.