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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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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

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

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