South Carolina Elections Boards Banned From Matching Signatures On Absentee Ballots

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( South Carolina must immediately stop rejecting absentee ballots solely on the basis of the appearance of a voter signature mismatch.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel issued an order on Tuesday that said county election boards that want to use any techniques for signature matching must first get permission to do so through the court. They can’t decide on their own that a voter signature on an absentee ballot doesn’t match that of signatures they have on file.

Further, these county election boards must provide voters with an opportunity to correct a signature mismatch, if one is perceived, before the board discounts their vote outright.

Gergel’s ruling only applies to signature mismatches. This would happen if an election official determines the signature that appears on a voter’s absentee ballot doesn’t appear to resemble their signature that the county election board has on file.

As of now, voters who return an absentee ballot that doesn’t contain their own signature or that of a witness will have their votes discounted. They also won’t be given an opportunity to fix the mistake.

At least 10 counties in South Carolina were either already implementing signature matching techniques, or were planning to do so in the near future. On Monday, Marci Andino, the state elections chief, directed county election boards to stop doing so, saying there was no legal basis for signature matching on absentee ballots.

She said the county election officials must refrain from rejecting a ballot that was completely properly otherwise simply on the basis of a signature mismatch they perceived. She wrote:

“If any county board of voter registration and elections … is employing or plans to employ a signature matching procedure, it must stop doing so immediately. Further, any absentee ballot that, as a result of a signature matching procedure, has been rejected, disqualified or otherwise set aside so that it will not be counted should immediately be included with those absentee ballots that will be counted, assuming that absentee ballot otherwise complies with (the absentee voting portion of state law).”

South Carolina has an interesting take on signatures on absentee ballots. According to state law, poll managers must compare a voter’s signature at the polls with the signature they signed to their voter identification card. However, there’s nothing in the state law that allows these county boards to use any signature matching on an absentee ballot.

Andino issued her order after a survey of county election boards, which was ordered by the courts, found there was no consistency with how the county boards were approaching signature verification on absentee ballots. At least nine of South Carolina’s counties were rejecting ballots that had a perceived signature mismatch.

Earlier in October, before Andino issued her order, plaintiffs filed a lawsuit saying their due process rights were violated since they weren’t given an opportunity to correct their signature. They argued that people’s signatures change over time, and signature matching is “highly prone to error.”

In the suit, they claimed:

“Relying on signature verification is an inherently flawed means of determining whether an absentee or mail ballot was fraudulently or inappropriately cast. No two signatures are identical, even if provided by the same signer.”