Don’t write this off: Some Arizona voters stealing felt-tip pens from polling places

Aug 2, 2022, 9:57 AM | Updated: 2:31 pm
(Twitter Photo/@MaricopaVote)...
(Twitter Photo/@MaricopaVote)
(Twitter Photo/@MaricopaVote)

PHOENIX – Some Arizona voters have been stealing felt-tip pens from polling places on primary Election Day, inconveniencing election workers, Valley officials said.

“It did happen at one location,” Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show a few hours after the polls opened Tuesday morning.

Richer said election workers are making adjustments in response to the thefts.

“Instead of putting a pen on every single voting booth, we’re just giving pens to individual voters at the desk where you receive your ballot,” he said.

The county elections department took to social media to ask voters to “not remove any voting materials from the polling place, including pens.”

Despite the latest pen controversy, Richer said Election Day was running smoothly throughout the morning.

“But as we mentioned ad nauseum, we would prefer if you used the pen that is given to you because it works well with the tabulation equipment,” he said.

“And all we want is a smooth primary election. There’s no partisan contests at war here, we just want every party’s operations and elections to go well.”

Interim Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell pinpointed one person who allegedly was spreading the idea of stealing pens: Gail Golec, a Republican candidate for a seat on the county board of supervisors.

Mitchell, also a Republican who is on the primary ballot, sent a cease and desist letter asking Golec to stop encouraging the thefts and to issue a retraction to her social media followers.

“As you well know, theft of any sort is unlawful; moreover encouraging theft of the fast-drying ink pens specifically recommended for election day voting is a deliberate attempt to interfere with election administration and will have the harmful effect of delaying the vote tabulation of election day ballots, as the wet ink harms the vote center tabulation machines,” Mitchell wrote.

After a baseless conspiracy theory about the use of Sharpies in the 2020 general election, Maricopa County switched to Pentel brand markers this year. Felt-tip pens are preferred for in-person voting because the ink dries faster and is less likely to smudge or affect tabulation machines.

Ball-point ink takes longer to dry, which can lead to tabulator jams. That can require the machines to be cleaned, causing delays at the polls.

Election officials say concerns about potential bleed-through from felt-tip pens are unfounded because offset columns on the ballots prevent bleeding ink from affecting tabulation, even for two-sided ballots.

Still, some social media users and prominent Republicans in the state encouraged voters to defy the guidance of election officials.

Republican State Rep. Shawnna Bolick, who is running for secretary of state, said she planned to bring her own ballpoint pen, while Kelli Ward, chair of the state’s Republican Party, encouraged her Twitter followers to “use whatever pen you want” but ensure their ballot is dry.

Other than the color of ink, which must be black or blue, pen type is only an issue with in-person voting, because the ink has plenty of time to dry before early ballots are fed into tabulating machines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Don’t write this off: Some Arizona voters stealing felt-tip pens from polling places