“Why would they want to ban requirements for signature verification in federal elections? Who would want a bill banning signature verification? What’s that all about? You know what it’s about? Fraud. That’s what they want: fraud. They want to try and steal this election because, frankly, it’s the only way they can win the election.”
— President Trump, at a coronavirus briefing in Bedminster, N.J., Aug. 8, 2020
This is false. Democrats are not trying to ban signature verification requirements for mail-in ballots.
What Democrats have introduced is a bill that says U.S. election officials must notify any voter whose signature was deemed deficient and give them an opportunity to fix it. That’s not a ban on signature verification, not by any stretch.
Democrats also have sued individual states and, in some cases, have won a court-ordered remedy process for voters to clear up any signature mismatches. That’s not a ban, either.
The president has a dearth of credibility on election issues. He routinely cries “voter fraud” where none exists. Now, he’s railing against legislation that doesn’t exist.
Documented instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare in the United States, the odds being lower than those of being struck by lightning, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In 2018, more than 31 million Americans voted by mail, representing one-quarter of election participants. Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — use mail ballots as the primary method of voting.
“Despite this dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small,” the Brennan Center says. “None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making that change.”
A Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.
Wendy R. Weiser, an election expert and vice president at the Brennan Center, previously told us that “the bigger problem is not forging signatures, but ballots being cast and not counted because the signature doesn’t match.” She cited “significant racial disparities” in rejecting ballots based on signature matches, with African Americans and other minorities more likely to have their votes discounted.
Republicans have argued that coronavirus relief legislation from House Democrats “guts” signature verification requirements, because it would allow 10 days for voters to clear up ballot signature deficiencies. That’s not a ban.
A bill spearheaded by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act, would make a series of changes to ease voting options during the coronavirus pandemic. Among those changes, Democrats are proposing that all states allow voters the opportunity to verify any ballot signatures deemed to be a mismatch.
“Notice of a discrepancy must be provided to voters by at least two methods including: regular mail, phone, electronic mail, and text message,” according to a bill summary from Democrats. “A voter has until the day before certification of election results to provide confirmation that the signature in question is their genuine signature. The confirmation can be provided through any of the notice methods. A final determination shall be made by three election officials, at least one of whom is of an opposing party, taking into account information provided by the voters, through a unanimous vote if a ballot is valid. Only through a unanimous vote that a ballot is not valid shall a vote not be counted.”
The bill lays out a bipartisan process for approving or rejecting ballots with signature issues. It does not end signature verification requirements.
Democracy Docket, a group led by the Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, has gone to court in several states to push for a similar remedy process. Elias has not sued to ban signature verification requirements.
“He is wrong,” Elias said of Trump’s remarks. “We have sued several states — from Georgia (who settled), to Florida (where we won), to Michigan (where they changed their practice). We are also suing Nevada and Arizona (over missing signatures) currently. In each and every case, we seek the same thing — uniform standards and training on signature matching, and an opportunity for voters to be notified and an opportunity to cure.”
In Georgia, Elias’s group obtained a court settlement “against Georgia’s failure to ensure that voters receive prompt notification of their rejected absentee ballots in time to cure a missing or mismatched signature.” Not a ban.
In Florida, Elias won a court ruling in 2018 that “extends the deadline to cure vote-by-mail and provisional ballots to two days after the election; requires the secretary of state to provide signature matching training to supervisors of elections and canvassing boards; and requires any signature mismatch determinations to be made by a majority of the canvassing board, subject to a ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard.” The state legislature and governor later enacted a bill that instituted a process to remedy signature issues. Not a ban.
Michigan, in response to an Elias lawsuit, amended its process for reviewing signature mismatches and now gives voters an opportunity to correct signature deficiencies. Not a ban.
The Trump campaign sued Nevada after it passed a law to legalize third-party ballot collection and provide more lenient options for remedying signature issues, among other changes. Again, not a ban.
Elias’s group had alleged that Nevada’s previous signature verification rules were so strict and arbitrarily applied they violated the constitutional right to vote. He asked a court to enjoin the state from enforcing those particular rules, not to ban any and all signature verification. When the state legislature acted in response to the lawsuit, Elias withdrew the case and stated in a court filing that it was in part because the new signature verification rules “provide clearer standards and more meaningful cure opportunities for Nevada voters.”
“When verifying signatures, evaluators should keep in mind that everyone writes differently, and no one signs their name exactly the same way twice,” according to part of the guidance a federal judge approved for New Jersey election officials this year. “Some variation in signatures is to be expected. There are many factors that can lead to signature variance, including but not limited to age, disability, underlying health conditions, writing implement/surface, level of concentration, and educational background. Studies have shown that evaluators are more likely to declare genuine signatures to be non-genuine than they are to accept a non-genuine signature as genuine.”
To verify a ballot with a signature deemed deficient, New Jersey voters under this court ruling must return a “cure form” provided by the state and include a driver’s license number or nondriving ID number from the state, the last four digits of a Social Security number, or “a legible copy of a state-accepted form of identification, which shall include a sample ballot which lists the voter’s name and address; an official federal, State, county or municipal document which lists the voter’s name and address; or a utility or telephone bill or tax or rent receipt.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump complained that Democrats are pushing “a bill banning signature verification” for mail-in ballots. No such bill exists. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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