Mismatched Signatures May be the Hanging Chads of 2020

Derek Cressman

 

With concerns about Coronavirus prompting millions of Americans to cast ballots away from traditional Election Day polling places, we should brace for potential recounts and legal challenges that could make Florida's hanging chad situation look tame by comparison.

A recent tally by National Public Radio found at least 550,000 thousand ballots were rejected by election officials during the 2020 primary elections. Most of these rejections were because a ballot arrived after the deadline, the voter forgot to sign the outside of the ballot return envelope, or because an election worker decided that the signature on the envelope didn’t sufficiently match the signature on the voter’s registration form—which in many instances could be decades old.

Voters may want to consider voting in person at an early voting site, if their state allows it. In many cases, this could provide greater certainty of your vote counting without the long lines and crowding of voting on Election Day itself. If you choose to vote by mail, or take your ballot to a drop box, be sure to sign the envelope (not the ballot itself) using as close a signature as possible to how you would have signed when you registered. If you haven’t moved or changed your voter registration in several years, It might even be a good idea to update your registration by mailing in a new registration form, with your current signature on it.

Most states also allow voters to track the receipt and processing of their ballots. Using these tools can help you discover that your signature doesn’t match, or that you forgot to sign the envelope altogether. Voting early will give you more time to fix a signature problem if one pops up.

States can help the process by processing absentee and vote by mail ballots as soon as they come in. States such as Oregon, which have been using vote by mail for decades, process ballot envelops when they arrive and notify a voter before Election Day if a signature is missing or mismatched. This leaves plenty of time for voters to come into an elections office and fix the error.

But Pennsylvania, which is new to vote by mail, doesn’t permit election officials to process ballots or match signatures until Election Day. Voters have five days after the election to “cure” a missing or mismatched signature, but some counties took two weeks after the primary election to process all the vote by mail ballots.That's a recipe for disaster and disenfranchisement.

If Pennsylvania winds up being a state that determines the outcome of the Electoral College, the litigation will be fast and furious. In the June 2 primary of this year, 37,119 absentee ballots were rejected. During the general, there will likely be twice as many absentee ballots cast, meaning as many at 70,000 could be rejected if results are similar to the primary. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by 44,292 votes and this year’s election may be even tighter, so the outcome could hinge on how election officials, and perhaps courts, address the signature matches in a potential Pennsylvania recount.

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