Few Californians are likely to spend any time thinking about how carefully they signed their voter registration card years ago. Nor is there much reason to assume that those who vote by mail think much about the neatness of their signature on the envelope containing that absentee ballot. But those two signatures — and whether they’re deemed to match — actually are key to whether the ballot counts. And while voting absentee was once uncommon, it’s now used by millions of Californians, some who will be newly pushed into doing it come 2018. The reality is that current California law is so flexible as to be vague when it comes to what an elections official should do when faced with an absentee voter’s sloppy signature. It simply states that the ballot counts if the official “determines that the signatures compare.”
State law, argues a lawsuit filed in August by the ACLU of Northern California, doesn’t say “how elections officials should make this determination” or require “training in handwriting identification or comparison.” The case is centered on a Sonoma County voter whose ballot was rejected because of his signature. It argues his constitutional right to equal protection was violated because no one allowed him to fix the signature problem.
California isn’t the only place where this is happening. It’s the same problem pointed out in 2016 by a Florida judge, who ruled it was illegal to not count a voter’s absentee ballot “for no reason other than they have poor handwriting or their handwriting has changed over time.”