A federal court blocked New Hampshire’s “signature mismatch” law on Tuesday, prohibiting the state from rejecting ballots on the basis of inconsistent handwriting. The court found that election officials had violated voters’ constitutional rights by tossing out their ballots due to perceived discrepancies between signatures. In 2016 alone, officials disenfranchised 275 voters for alleged signature mismatches, a disproportionate number of whom were disabled.
New Hampshire’s bizarre mismatch rule applied to all residents who vote by absentee ballot. Voters must sign their ballots before mailing them in; a local election official known as a “moderator” would then compare the ballot signature to the signature on file. If the moderator decided the signatures didn’t match, she had unilateral authority to reject the ballot. These moderators did not have expertise in handwriting analysis and operated under no clear guidelines. Predictably, this freewheeling system produced wildly inconsistent results: In 2016, all rejected ballots came from just 26 percent of New Hampshire’s 318 polling places. It seems a handful of overeager moderates disenfranchised hundreds of voters.
In response, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire filed suit, alleging that the state’s mismatch law violated voters’ due process rights under the 14th Amendment. (Its client, Mary Saucedo, is 95 years old and legally blind; in 2016, her ballot was thrown out for signature mismatch.) On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty ruled in the ACLU’s favor, describing the rule as “fundamentally flawed.”