A group of at least 200 Trump supporters, many of them armed, gathered outside an elections center in Arizona on Wednesday night, demanding access to see ballots after a false rumor spread online alleging that their votes weren’t being counted.
The group congregated outside the Maricopa County Elections Department after social media posts shared on Tuesday night said that voters who had used Sharpie pens to mark their ballots in the election wouldn’t have their votes counted. The false rumor, known as “Sharpitegate,” was likely compounded and given undue legitimacy after Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) retweeted it to his followers.
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The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors has issued a statement assuring voters that their votes did indeed count if they used Sharpie pens to cast their ballots.
According to the Phoenix New Times, right-wing “fringe elements” were part of the protest group. Jennifer Harrison, the leader of a far right hate group called AZ Patriots, spoke to the group about how she was removed from being an elections observer. Noted misogynist and “Pizzagate” supporter Mike Cernovich was also part of the protest.
In a post accompanying video of the incident, Briana Whitney, a CBS-affiliate reporter in Phoenix, said protesters had attempted to enter the center. The facility was forced to close its doors to the public and to the media out of safety concerns due to the group outside, with counting of ballots continuing uninterrupted during and after the protests.
HAPPENING NOW IN ARIZONA: Protesters yelling and trying to get into the Maricopa County Elections Center where ballots are being counted. They believe the sharpies used made their votes invalid. That is not true.
— Briana Whitney (@BrianaWhitney) November 5, 2020
The pro-Trump protesters chanted “stop the steal” and “count my vote” during their demonstration. They also denounced Fox News for having called the race in Arizona in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday night. Only Fox News and the Associated Press have called the state for Biden so far.
Demonstrations against vote counters have occurred in other cities across the country as well. In Detroit, Michigan, for example, a state that has been called for Biden, pro-Trump supporters demanded access to view and challenge votes that were still being counted, following the president’s campaign team demands that counting in that state be stopped.
According to available returns from the state, Biden currently leads Trump in Arizona by a very slim margin of about 68,000 votes as of Thursday morning. The state’s 11 Electoral College votes would bring Biden’s total so far to 264, just six votes shy of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
It’s possible that Trump can overcome the margin in Arizona held by Biden at the moment, as 470,000 votes remain to be counted. A number of votes counted on Wednesday night through Thursday morning narrowed the difference between the two candidates, as Biden’s vote share was much larger before.
The issue for Trump, however, is that a significant number of ballots that remain to be counted come from Democratic-leaning counties, and are also absentee or mail-in ballots, which have tended to favor Biden. Trump would need to win close to 57 percent of the remaining outstanding ballots in order to ensure Biden doesn’t win Arizona, according to Republican pollster Paul Bentz, who spoke with AZ Central.
The incumbent president faces similar difficulties elsewhere across the country. The margin in Nevada, for example, currently favors Biden, but by only a few thousand votes. Most of the uncounted votes in that state, however, come from heavily-populated, mostly Democratic areas.
In two other states, Georgia and Pennsylvania, Trump is currently leading Biden by 19,000 and 142,000 votes respectively. However, a number of ballots in both states, also from populated Democratic areas, remain to be counted.