It used to be you would sign on the bottom line, whether it was a check or a credit card receipt or even a love letter. But the art of the signature has become less important and less practiced, and that has meant less certainty for elections officials in several states who are still counting votes from the Nov. 6 midterm elections. Those officials are trying verify that the signatures required on mail-in, provisional, absentee and military ballots match the signature that voters have on file with the board of elections. But signatures change over time — a problem especially for younger voters, says Daniel Smith, a professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Florida. “Let’s say you’re a civically engaged 16-year-old and you preregister to vote in Florida, which you are allowed to do,” Smith tells NPR. “You might have a signature that has a nice heart over the ‘i’ in your name as a 16-year-old, but you come to the University of Florida, you become a sophisticated Gator, and your signature now looks very different.”
Smith, who authored a study on the issue for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, says it’s the signature that the voter created at 16 that is going to be the signature of record.
That causes problems with younger people, “whose signatures are not fixed in a digital world, where you’re signing your name with your finger on an iPad,” Smith says. That could disenfranchise young voters, which he says is “somewhat incompatible with the right to vote.”