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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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White House Endorses Bipartisan Senate Bill That Could Ban TikTok

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The measure does not target TikTok specifically but instead would set up a framework to crack down on foreign products and services that present a national security threat.


The RESTRICT Act

A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would allow the federal government to restrict or even outright ban TikTok and other technologies produced by foreign companies.

Under the legislation, dubbed the RESTRICT Act, the Commerce Department would have sweeping authority to identify and regulate technologies that pose a risk to national security and are produced by companies in six “foreign adversary” countries: China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea.

In other words, the proposal would not explicitly ban TikTok, but instead creates a path for future prohibitions on the Chinese-owned platform. 

While the bill’s text does not specifically mention TikTok, the group of senators made it clear that the app is their number one target, directing most of their criticism to the platform in statements announcing the measure.

The legislation, however, would go way beyond TikTik: it is also designed to prepare for future situations where apps or technologies from an “adversary” country become popular in the U.S.

The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Ma.), echoed that point in his remarks Tuesday.

“Today, the threat that everyone is talking about is TikTok, and how it could enable surveillance by the Chinese Communist Party, or facilitate the spread of malign influence campaigns in the U.S.,” he said. “Before TikTok, however, it was Huawei and ZTE, which threatened our nation’s telecommunications networks. And before that, it was Russia’s Kaspersky Lab, which threatened the security of government and corporate devices.”

“We need a comprehensive, risk-based approach that proactively tackles sources of potentially dangerous technology before they gain a foothold in America, so we aren’t playing Whac-A-Mole and scrambling to catch up once they’re already ubiquitous.”

Proponents of the bill also hope that, given the broad scope of the legislation, it will gain more traction than past proposals that zeroed in on TikTok. Support for the measure was further bolstered when the White House announced it would back the move shortly after it was rolled out.

“This bill presents a systematic framework for addressing technology-based threats to the security and safety of Americans,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with both Democrats and Republicans on this bill, and urge Congress to act quickly to send it to the President’s desk.”

A Bumpy Road Ahead

Despite the bipartisan push, there are still some hurdles for the RESTRICT Act to overcome.

Although the legislation does not directly ban TikTok, because that is clearly its intent, the same issues with an outright prohibition still stand. One of the most serious concerns is that banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment.

There is past precedent on this front: in 2020, a federal magistrate judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring Apple and Google to take the Chinese-owned app WeChat off their app stores.

In that decision, the judge argued that the government only had “modest” evidence about the app’s risks and that removing it from app stores would “burden substantially more speech than is necessary to serve the government’s significant interest in national security.”

TikTok has emulated that argument. In a statement responding to the RESTRICT Act Tuesday, a spokesperson for the company said the legislation could “have the effect of censoring millions of Americans.”

Meanwhile, even if the act does pass, there is also the question of whether the Biden administration would decide on a full-scale ban. 

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would be the one responsible for overseeing the process under the bill, and while she said she said in a statement that she “welcomed” the proposal and promised to work with Congress to pass it, she has also previously expressed hesitation for a full prohibition.

On the other end of the equation, there are concerns that this measure will not ultimately get enough bipartisan support from Republicans who do want an outright ban and will refuse to accept anything that falls short of that.

While speaking with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said the new plan did not go far enough and argued that Congress “should pass a bill that bans TikTok.”

Even if the legislation does get enough support in the Senate, its path is unclear in the GOP-held House, where it also does not yet have a companion bill. Republicans in the House recently introduced a measure that would give the president the power to unilaterally ban TikTok in the U.S.

That proposal, however, is not bipartisan like the RESTRICT Act, which will be a key test to see if legislators can find a middle ground on the matter.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (NBC News)

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What You Need to Know About Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Race — The Most Important Election in 2023

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Gerrymandering, abortion, the 2024 presidential election, and much more are on the line.


Primary Election

An election to fill an empty seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that has been described as the most consequential race of 2023 has now been narrowed to two candidates after the primary Tuesday.

Liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz easily took first place, winning 46.4% of the vote with nearly all precincts reporting. In second place with 24.2% was conservative Daniel Kelly, a former Wisconsin State Supreme Court justice who was appointed by the state’s then-Republican governor in 2016 but lost his re-election in 2020.

Notably, the wide discrepancy in votes can be explained by the fact that Kelly split Republican ballots with another conservative candidate who came in a close third with 21.9%. As such, the general election is expected to be tight.

Also of note, this race is technically supposed to be non-partisan, but Protasiewicz has closely aligned herself with Democrats and Kelly has done the same with Republicans. Both parties, as well as dark money groups, have poured millions of dollars into the high-stakes election that will determine whether liberals or conservatives will have a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court at an incredibly consequential time.

There are a number of paramount issues at play here that have widespread implications not just for Wisconsin but America at-large.

Gerrymandering and Elections

Wisconsin is one of the most important swing states in the country: it helped decide the outcomes of both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, and it is the center of debates on gerrymandering and free and fair elections that have played a role in those races.

The state Supreme Court, which has had a conservative majority for the last 14 years, has been instrumental in shaping those policies, having weighed in on many of the most crucial topics and almost always siding with Republicans.

For example, in what VICE described as “arguably the most important decision the court made in recent years,” the court ruled 4-3 last year to uphold one of America’s most gerrymandered maps that gave Republicans a massive advantage.

“The maps are so gerrymandered that Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight House seats and nearly two-thirds of legislative seats in the state—even though Democrats won most statewide races last year,” the outlet reported.

That ruling created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the conservative majority court has decided so many critical topics because the state government is deadlocked with a Republican majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor.

So, by approving a map that massively favored Republicans, the conservative court kept that system in place, ensuring that they would continue to have the final say on so many of these essential areas.

However, if Protasiewicz wins the general election, the court is all but certain to revisit the gerrymandered map. Protasiewicz, for her part, explicitly stated in a recent interview that a liberal majority could establish new election maps. Kelly, meanwhile, has said he has no interest in revisiting the maps. 

A decision unfavorable to the GOP-drawn maps would have significant implications for the internal politics of Wisconsin and control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans currently hold a very slim five-seat majority.

To that point, the Wisconsin Supreme Court also plays a big role in how the state’s elections are administered and how its ten Electoral College votes will be doled out in the 2024 presidential election. 

Last year, the conservative court banned absentee ballot drop boxes, and in 2014, it upheld a GOP voter ID law that studies have shown suppressed Black voters. While the court did vote against considering former President Donald Trump’s lawsuit to try and overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin, it only did so by a thin margin of 4-3.

The court will very likely be tasked with wading into elections-related cases in the coming years. Already, it is anticipated that the justice will hear a lawsuit by a conservative group aiming to further limit voting access by banning mobile and alternate voting facilities.

Abortion and Other Important Statewide Subjects

In addition to the ramifications for America broadly, there are also plenty of paramount issues concerning the state Supreme Court that will materially impact the people of Wisconsin.

Much of the race has been centered heavily on the topic of abortion and reproductive rights because the composition of the court will almost positively determine whether or not abortion will be legal for the state’s six million residents.

Following the Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade, an 1849 Wisconsin law banning abortion went back into effect. Currently, a lawsuit against the ban is winding its way through the court system, and it is all but assured that battle will eventually go before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.

Experts and analysts say that if Kelly wins, it is essentially guaranteed that abortion will remain illegal in almost all cases. Protasiewicz, by contrast, has campaigned extensively on abortion rights and vocally supported the right to choose.

Beyond that, there are also several other major issues the court will likely rule on in the coming years. For example, Protasiewicz has also said she believes a liberal majority could reverse a 12-year-old law that basically eliminated collective bargaining for public workers. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Everything is at stake, and I mean everything: Women’s reproductive rights, the maps, drop boxes, safe communities, clean water,”  Protasiewicz told VICE. “Everything is on the line.” 

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

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Republicans Want to Cut Food Stamps — Even As Pandemic-Era Programs Wind Down

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Experts say cuts to food stamps could have a devastating impact on the 41 million Americans who rely on the program.


GOP Weighs SNAP Cuts in Budget

In recent weeks, top Republican lawmakers have floated several different ideas for cutting food stamp benefits.

Earlier this month, Republicans now leading the House Budget Committee flagged food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP —  as one of the ten areas they would support cuts to in their new budget proposal. 

In a memo, the panel argued that stricter work requirements would “save tens of billions,” while a more rigid verification process for applicants would limit waste, fraud, and abuse. The idea comes as part of a broader effort to reduce the federal deficit.

Experts, however, say the proposed changes could result in debilitating cuts for the 41 million Americans who rely on food stamps and exacerbate an ongoing hunger crisis at a time when inflation has sent food prices rising.

SNAP provides low-income households with an average of around $230 a month for groceries. For many of those families who are also the most impacted by inflationary price increases across the board, that money is absolutely essential.

Experts have also noted that any additional cuts to SNAP would be especially harmful because Republicans are still proposing new cuts despite the fact that Congress already agreed just two months ago to end a pandemic-era program that had increased benefits in some states.

Under the pandemic policies, SNAP was expanded so households could receive maximum benefits instead of benefits based on income testing while also giving bigger payouts to the lowest-income Americans.

That expansion is now set to expire in March, and according to the anti-hunger advocacy group the Food Research and Action Center, an estimated 16 million households will see their per-person benefits drop by around $82 a month.

The Farm Bill Debate

Even if Republicans do not end up cutting SNAP in the budget, the program may still be in hot water.

While raising the debt limit is at the forefront of ongoing partisan battles at the moment, there is already a fight shaping up over another essential piece of legislation: the farm bill.

The farm bill is a package that has to be updated and reauthorized every couple of years. One of the most important legislative tasks Congress is responsible for, the farm bill includes many important subsidies and programs that are imperative to America’s food systems, farms, and much more.

SNAP is among the nutrition-based programs that fall under the purview of the farm bill, and Republicans have already tossed around the idea of cutting food stamp benefits in their ongoing negotiations.

Those debates are quite forward-looking, though it is normal for such discussions to occur early during a year in which Congress is charged with passing the farm bill. Lawmakers have until Oct. 1 to either enact a new version or agree on some kind of extension.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Business Insider) (Axios)

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