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Debunked Election Conspiracies Like #SharpieGate Are Still Running Rampant Online

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  • Multiple agencies, public officials, and social media platforms have debunked several election-related conspiracy theories, including one that alleges poll workers in Arizona sabotaged votes for President Donald Trump by having his supporters vote with Sharpies.
  • In fact, the Arizona elections department in question has repeatedly affirmed since October that Sharpies are a valid method for filling out ballots in the jurisdiction.
  • Officials in Virginia have also debunked a video shared by Eric Trump, the president’s son, which appears to show 80 ballots cast for President Trump being burned. 
  • Those officials say the ballots that video are not official and are instead sample ballots, as they lack “bar code markings that are on all official ballots.” 
  • Despite widespread debunking efforts, these conspiracies have continued to circulate online, and social media platforms have taken varying steps to prevent their spread.

The False Claims Behind #SharpieGate 

Since polls opened on Tuesday, numerous election-related conspiracy theories have circulated online. While many of them have since been debunked by multiple agencies, public officials, and social media platforms, that has not seemed to stop their spread.

One such debunked conspiracy theory is known as SharpieGate, which claims that poll workers intentionally sabotaged votes for incumbent President Donald Trump through the use of Sharpies.

In fact, this conspiracy has become so large that it partially inspired protests at a poll counting site in Maricopa County, Arizona, on Wednesday night. While Arizona has been called for Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden by outlets such as the Associated Press and Fox News, other outlets have refused to declare a victor, as of Thursday afternoon. 

The conspiracy goes like this: Somehow, poll workers in Maricopa County were able to tell the difference between Trump supporters and Biden supporters simply by looking at them. Instead of using regular pens, those poll workers would then hand Sharpies to the people they suspected to be Trump voters. From there, they would be able to invalidate votes for Trump.

One woman in Maricopa County has even sued election officials after saying that her ballot was invalidated because she was given a Sharpie. 

According to that lawsuit, this was the first time Laurie Aguilera had ever been given a Sharpie to vote, even though she has reportedly voted in-person over the last few election cycles. After completing her ballot, Aguilera claims she tried to feed it into the voting machine but that the machine rejected her ballot. Alongside that, she noted that ink from the Sharpie had bled through to the other side of the ballot. She then said a poll worker canceled her ballot when she requested a new one but that the poll worker also refused to give her a new ballot. 

Now, she’s accusing the Maricopa County’s voting machines of being unable to read Sharpies and is requesting that everyone who was given a Sharpie be identified and allowed to fix their vote so that it’s counted. 

SharpieGate is Overwhelmingly Debunked

According to experts and election officials, her claim is not true.

“Sharpies are just fine to use,” Megan Gilbertson, communications director for the Maricopa County Elections Department told Reuters. “They do not impact tabulation, and we encourage them on Election Day because of how fast the ink dries.”

Even before this conspiracy theory picked up steam on Tuesday, the Maricopa County Elections Department tweeted:

“Did you know we use Sharpies in the Vote Centers so the ink doesn’t smudge as ballots are counted onsite? New offset columns on the ballots means bleed through won’t impact your vote!”

Alongside that tweet, it included a video that was originally posted to YouTube on Oct. 24. That video affirms that Sharpies, as well as black or blue ink pens, are all valid methods for marking ballots in Arizona. 

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, an agency formed by legislation that Trump himself signed, directly labeled SharpieGate as a false rumor

“Poll workers are required to provide approved writing devices to voters,” it stated. 

Additionally, as the Associated Press noted, “Even if a ballot could not be read by a tabulation machine, it would be reviewed by a board that re-examines the ballots.The vote would not be canceled.”

#SharpieGate Continues

All of that has done little to end the spread of this conspiracy theory.

“Voted with a sharpie pen and now my vote is canceled. Woah,” one man said on Twitter Wednesday. 

In his post, that man also included an image seemingly showing that his ballot had been canceled.

However, this is a severely cropped photo that doesn’t tell the full story. In fact, the image linked by this man actually appears to be a form showing that his mail-in ballot was canceled because he never returned it. As the man stated, he voted in-person.

As Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs pointed out, “Voters who received an early ballot in the mail but chose to instead vote in-person will see their early ballot status as “Canceled” on their Ballot-by-Mail/Early Ballot Status update. This is because the early ballot is canceled so the ballot cast-in person can be counted.”

According to Reuters, SharpieGate is so potent that even people who used Sharpies and had their ballots clearly accepted by voting machines are now worried about their vote.

Fake Ballot Burning Video Shared by Eric Trump

While there are similar Sharpie-related stories circulating in places like Chicago, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, this is by far the only election-related conspiracy theory meant to scare conservative voters. 

In fact, on Tuesday, Eric Trump — the president’s son — shared a video that allegedly shows 80 Virginian ballots, all cast for President Trump, being burned. In that video, a person throws what appears to be ballots in a plastic bag, all before pouring lighter fluid over that bag and setting it on fire. 

“Fuck Trump,” the person says before lighting the bag. 

According to the City of Virginia Beach, those ballots are not real. Instead, officials said they are clearly sample ballots, as they lack “bar code markings that are on all official ballots.” 

What Are Social Media Platforms Doing to Stop Conspiracy Theories?

As for what social media platforms are doing to combat the spread of these conspiracy theories, Twitter has now suspended the account of the user who uploaded the ballot burning video, meaning viewers can no longer see it.

However, all of that only happened after the video racked up more than 1.2 million views, and other versions of that video are still extremely easy to find on Twitter.

Regarding SharpieGate, Twitter has slapped warning labels on posts from notable people like Matt Schlapp, a right-wing lobbyist and former Bush staffer. 

@mschlapp

It’s also created a page dedicated to debunking this conspiracy theory. 

Still, a simple glance on Schlapp’s profile will yield multiple SharpieGate tweets that haven’t been flagged. 

In addition to Schlapp, numerous tweets from other people also haven’t been flagged.

On YouTube, tons of videos promoting SharpieGate have surfaced, but YouTube has reportedly told Business Insider that it doesn’t plan on removing them. Instead, it told the outlet that it would add an “information panel below these videos.” 

That panel now reads, “Results may not be final. See the latest on Google.”

Meanwhile, Facebook has labeled at least one highly circulated SharpieGate video as “false information,” but by the time it did, that video had already been viewed 100,000 times. 

Facebook has now blocked the hashtag, #SharpieGate. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Business Insider) (CNN)

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Republicans Say They Will Block Bill To Avert Government Shutdown and Debt Default

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Democrats argue the bill is necessary to prevent an economic catastrophe.


Democrats Introduce Legislation

Democrats in the House and Senate unveiled sweeping legislation Monday that aimed to keep the government funded through early December, lift the federal debt limit, and provide around $35 billion for Afghan refugees and natural disaster recovery.

The bill is needed to avoid a government shutdown when funding expires next week. It is also necessary to prevent the Treasury Department from reaching the limit of its borrowing authority, which would trigger the U.S. to default on its debt for the first time ever.

For weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to raise the federal debt limit, also known as the debt ceiling, warning that the department will soon exhaust all of its measures to keep the federal government within its legal borrowing limit.

If the U.S. were to default, it would be unable to pay its debts, sending massive shockwaves through the financial system.

Democrats have painted the bill as crucial to avert an economic doomsday that would massively undermine recovery.

They argue that the combination of a government shutdown and a debt default would destabilize global markets and leave millions of Americans without essential aid.

Republicans Vow to Oppose Raising Debt Ceiling 

Despite the considerable threats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has repeatedly said Republicans will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it without their help because they are pushing trillions of dollars in new spending priorities.

Democrats have slammed the Republican leader’s stance as hypocritical. They point out that while it is true they are proposing new spending, it has not been approved yet, and the debt that currently risks default has been incurred by both parties.

Democrats also noted that trillions of dollars were added to the federal debt under former President Donald Trump, which is more than what has been added by President Joe Biden. As a result, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with the support of Democrats.

McConnell, however, remains unlikely to budge. On Monday, White House officials said McConnell has not outlined any requests or areas of negotiation in exchange for support of the legislation. 

While the bill is expected to pass the House, it appears all but doomed in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to break the filibuster.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Politico)

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom Survives Recall

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Experts say the outcome should act as a warning for Republicans who tie themselves to former President Donald Trump and attempt to undermine election results by promoting false voter fraud claims.


Recall Effort Fails

After seven months and an estimated $276 million in taxpayer money, the Republican-led effort to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) failed Tuesday.

Just under 70% of the votes have been reported as of Wednesday morning, showing that “no” on the recall received 63.9% of the vote. That’s nearly twice as many votes as “yes,” which had 36.1%.

According to The Washington Post, even if the margin narrows as more votes are counted, this still marks one of the biggest rejections of any recall effort in America over the last century.

Analysts say the historic rebuke was driven by high Democratic turnout and broader fears over resurging COVID cases.

While the Delta variant continues to push new infections to record highs in many parts of the country with lax mask rules and low vaccination rates, California, once a global epicenter of the pandemic, now has one of the highest vaccination rates and lowest new caseloads in the nation.

Newsom has continually tried to convince voters that those figures are the results of his vaccine and masking policies, which have been some of the most aggressive in the U.S. 

Given that polls showed the pandemic was the top concern for California voters, it is clear that the majority favored his policies over those of his competitors. Larry Elder, the Republican talk radio host of led the field of 46 challengers, ran on a platform of getting rid of essentially all COVID restrictions.

Newsom’s Remarks

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Newsom painted the recall’s failure not only as a win for Democratic coronavirus policies but also for Democracy at large.

“We said yes to science. We said yes to vaccines. We said yes to ending this pandemic,” he said. “We said yes to people’s right to vote without fear of fake fraud or voter suppression.” 

“I think about just in the last few days and the former president put out saying this election was rigged,” he continued. “Democracy is not a football. You don’t throw it around. That’s more like a, I don’t know, antique vase. You can drop it and smashing a million different pieces. And that’s what we’re capable of doing if we don’t stand up to meet the moment and push back.”

“I said this many, many times on the campaign trail, we may have defeated Trump, but Trump-ism is not dead in this country. The Big Lie, January 6th insurrection, all the voting suppression efforts that are happening all across this country.” 

A Warning for Republicans

Newsom’s remarks took aim at the efforts by Elder and other Republicans — including former President Donald Trump — who over the last week have claimed falsely and without evidence that voter fraud helped secured the governor’s win before Election Day even took place.

While it is currently unknown whether that narrative may have prompted more Republican voters to stay home, Newsom’s effort to cast Edler as a Trump-like candidate and the recall as an undemocratic, Republican power grab appears to have been effective.

Now, political strategists say that the outcome of the recall should serve as a warning that Republicans who pin themselves to Trump and his Big Lie playbook may be hurt more in certain states.

“The recall does offer at least one lesson to Democrats in Washington ahead of next year’s midterm elections: The party’s pre-existing blue- and purple-state strategy of portraying Republicans as Trump-loving extremists can still prove effective with the former president out of office,” The New York Times explained.

Even outside of a strongly blue state like California, analysts say this strategy will also be effective with similar candidates in battleground states like Georgia, Arizona, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, which will be essential to deciding control of the Senate.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Justice Department Sues Texas Over Abortion Ban

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The department claims the Texas law violates past Supreme Court precedents on abortion and infringes on Constitutional protections.


Biden Administration Takes Aim at Texas Law

The Department of Justice sued Texas on Thursday in an attempt to block the state’s newly enacted law that effectively prohibits all abortions by banning the procedure after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant.

The abortion law, which is the most restrictive in the country and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest, allows private citizens to take legal action against anyone who helps a person terminate their pregnancy after six weeks.

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that the Texas law is unconstitutional because it violates past Supreme Court precedents through a technical loophole.

While numerous other states have passed similar laws banning abortion after about six weeks, federal judges have struck down those measures on the grounds that they are inconsistent with Roe v. Wade and subsequent Supreme Court decisions that states cannot prevent someone from seeking an abortion before a fetus can viably live outside the womb, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

The Texas law, however, skirts the high court decisions by deputizing citizens to enforce the law rather than state government officials, taking the state out of the equation entirely and protecting it from legal responsibility.

Individuals who do so do not have to prove any personal injury or connection to those they take legal action against, which can range from abortion providers to rideshare drivers who take someone to a clinic.

If their lawsuit is successful, the citizen is entitled to a $10,000 award.

DOJ Lawsuit Targets Constitutionality

During a press conference detailing the DOJ lawsuit, Attorney General Merrick Garland referred to the enforcement mechanism as “an unprecedented” effort with the “obvious and expressly acknowledged intention” to prevent Texans from their constitutionally protected right to have an abortion.

“This kind of scheme to nullify the Constitution of the United States is one that all Americans — whatever their politics or party — should fear,” Garland said, adding that the provision of the law allowing civilians “to serve as bounty hunters” may become “a model for action in other areas, by other states, and with respect to other constitutional rights and judicial precedents.”

The Justice Department argued that the Texas policy violates equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment as well as the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that the Constitution and federal law generally take precedence over state law.

The lawsuit also claimed that the law interferes with the constitutional obligation of federal employees to provide access to abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, to people who are under the care of federal agencies or contractors such as those in prisons.

Both Sides See Path to Supreme Court

While proponents of abortion rights applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, officials in Texas defended the law and accused the Biden administration of filing the lawsuit for political reasons. 

“President Biden and his administration are more interested in changing the national narrative from their disastrous Afghanistan evacuation and reckless open border policies instead of protecting the innocent unborn,” a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), said in a statement. 

“We are confident that the courts will uphold and protect that right to life.”

The DOJ’s suit will now be decided by a federal judge for the Western District of Texas, based in Austin. 

Depending on how that court rules, either opponents or supporters of the abortion ban are expected to appeal the case, sending it to the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal and likely ultimately placing the matter before the Supreme Court again in a matter of months.

The Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect by declining to approve an emergency petition to block the measure last week, but it did not rule on the constitutionality of the policy.

As a result, the Justice Department’s legal challenge could force the high court to hear another facet of the law that it has not yet considered if it decides to see the case.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Texas Tribune)

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