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I am seeing reports of ballots in some states being ruined because the polling place used sharpies instead of the pens they were supposed to. In Atlanta, a heavily Democrat polling place had a watermain break and there may be ruined ballots.

How do they settle things like this? I understand it'll go to the courts, but what metrics will the courts judge by?

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    Where are you seeing these reports? Putting links in your question would be most helpful.
    – Joe C
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 18:06
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    Here is a link to an update on the sharpies story: chicago.cbslocal.com/2020/11/03/… The Atlanta water main story is here: politico.com/news/2020/11/03/… (Note: these are merely top results from Google. Other reports are available). Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 18:14

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I am seeing reports of ballots in some states being ruined because the polling place used sharpies instead of the pens they were supposed to.

Part of a voter's job is to make sure the ballot is marked the way they want. Always double check. Voters can request a new ballot (and a new pen) if the ballot has problems. Some voters don't do that, and that sometimes result in ballots that cannot be automatically scanned.

In most states those ballots that are cannot be automatically scanned are set aside for manual review. Election officials, along with an observer from the Democratic Party and another observer from the Republican Party, try to make sense of the ballot. If they can do so they do do so, creating a duplicate of the original ballot and filing the original for keeping.

In Atlanta, a heavily Democrat polling place had a watermain break and there may be ruined ballots.

This appears to be "telephone game" reporting. (The telephone game is where kids form a circle. Someone starts by whispering something to the person to the right, that person is supposed to whisper the to the next person, and so on, around the circle. The results whispered back to the person who started things can be amusing.) The story appears to have originated from a local Atlanta news outlet, ajc.com. The original story reads, emphasis mine,

A broken water pipe at the ballot processing site at State Farm arena caused a delay in Fulton County’s ability to process thousands of absentee-by-mail votes Tuesday night.

Despite the broken pipe, which did not lead to any ballots being damaged, elections officials said they performed better than the disastrous June 9 primary, which made national headlines as voters waited hours in line to cast their ballots.

So in this case, no harm, no foul. There was a fire recently in a Traverse City, Michigan post office that may have destroyed some mail-in ballots:

Postal officials said they await more details about how the fire affected any mail in the building at the time.

Local township clerks reported there is an online tracking service provided by state election officials that can help voters track their absentee ballot. Any ballots recently mailed in the Elmira area that may have been destroyed in the fire can be easily tracked down and replaced, officials confirmed.

“There’s nothing to be concerned about. There is a way to track them,” said Susan Schaedig, Elmira Township clerk in Otsego County.

Election officials take their jobs very seriously. The goal is for election officials to give everyone qualified to vote in an election the opportunity to vote in that election (once), and to go out of their way to make sure every validly cast ballot is counted.

Update, regarding @sharpiegate

Apparently Arizona prefers sharpies for in-person voting. The reason is that the ink dries very quickly and thus has less of a chance of gunking up scanning equipment. The ballots are specifically designed so that bleed-through will not cause scanning problems. Sharpies or ballpoint could have been used for mail-in ballots, and for in-person voting. The Arizona Secretary of State tweeted IMPORTANT: If you voted a regular ballot in-person, your ballot will be counted, no matter what kind of pen you used (even a Sharpie)! Snopes has debunked the conspiracy theory that Arizona polling places gave out Sharpie pens to Trump supporters, use of which invalidated their ballots.

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  • Covers the specifics from the question body, but not the general case from the title. Still +1
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 19:13
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    @Jontia The general case would require detailing the laws and regulations of 50 states plus the district of Columbia at least, which is a rather extreme request. Voting is, with currently pretty gutted exceptions arising from the 15th amendment, done strictly at the state and local levels; there's no federal uniformity. Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 19:35

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