Jensen: My experience with signature verification at the Supervisor of Elections Office
October 30, 2023
Letter to the editor
As a poll worker operating the EVID machine for in-person voting, I was able to confirm that the voter standing in front of me matched the photo ID and signature they provided with a stylus. Voter information, according to the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office, travels over a Verizon wireless connection. Vote by mail (VBM) ballot envelope signatures have none of that security. How accurately is the envelope signature matched with the signature on file for the voter?
In Alachua County, before an election, citizens representing a candidate or a political party can apply to view ballot envelope signatures prior to them being opened. This opportunity only became available for the 2022 elections due to a new provision in election law. Networking with election integrity groups in other counties reveals a great disparity in how the statute is interpreted by SOEs. Some allow private screens where the viewer can scroll at their own pace and see as many comparisons as their time allows.
However, Alachua interpreted “reasonable access” in a much more restrictive manner. Viewing first had to be requested by the party/candidate in a letter. Then a form had to be filled out denoting who was going to represent them. The schedule of viewing was then dictated, in 2022 consisting of half-hour increments on a couple of days. The viewer had to request which slots they would like to attend, then it was decided by the SOE whether you were allowed.
I requested all available slots and was granted access. I had participated in training for handwriting analysis, so I was confident of the features to pay attention to in determining whether the writer was actually legitimate. The sessions consisted of the VBM coordinator reading the voter ID number out loud, while sitting at the back of a large room. Viewers were in the front, with a screen displaying what was shown on the computer. On the left was the ballot image signature; on the right was the official signature of the voter on file (however long ago they provided it). The SOE office had access to other samples for comparison that the viewers were not allowed to see.
Ballots were selected for viewing by the VBM coordinator. When I requested certain precincts, he provided them in batches of 50. All ballots had already undergone scrutiny by his team. A Public Records Request provided the information that a mandatory training course must be completed by all persons evaluating ballots and that matching is not done by machine.
All viewers looked at the same screen. On a number of occasions, there were 4-5 of us, plus Supervisor Barton, the VBM coordinator, her assistant, and the person pulling the signatures on file up on the computer. They moved at the pace set by viewers, with pauses when we needed to note something. I tallied all the VIDs we looked at and noted whether there was reasonable match or if it was questionable. The other viewers were perplexed at what I was doing (none of their business) and had the mindset that we had to come to some kind of consensus as to whether it was a match. On a number of signatures, when I was skeptical and trying decide whether to challenge the authenticity, Supervisor Barton went up to the screen and pointed out what she thought was evidence of a good match. I made my own decisions about challenges despite the “herd mentality” of acceptability.
The challenge form is meant to be daunting. It has 2 pages, recounting how a “frivolous” challenge is a misdemeanor of the first degree. Then comes the Challenger oath, and 4 places to initial that you realize you may be prosecuted for misdemeanors of the second degree or felony of the third degree for daring to question the signature. You take a deep breath before signing such a document!
I added the proviso also found in statute FS 101.111(2)(C)(2) “that electors or poll watchers shall not be subject to liability for any action taken in good faith and in furtherance of any activity or duty permitted of such electors or poll watchers by law.” I also struck out the statement that I was accusing someone of “attempting to vote illegally” and inserted “signature does not match,” which is all I was suggesting. The voter still had the right to “cure” the ballot, so they were not being deprived of their vote.
I attended the sessions with a companion viewer, because it is intimidating to be there. We wanted to see as many signatures as possible. Sometimes the other viewers held up the process with questions, trying to dissuade me from a challenge. For the August 2022 sessions, we were able to see 622 voter signatures. We were VERY skeptical of 75 of the approved signatures. Notes included: messy, printed not cursive, different last name, outside the box, weird, scribbled (many), left off Jr, left off last name, left off first name, just 3 letters, very sloppy, no similarity, illegible, nothing to compare to, and funky. And these were the ones we DIDN”T challenge.
We challenged 16 of the most egregious signatures, swallowing hard. 2 went to curing, but all were ultimately accepted as legitimate by the canvassing board. We didn’t challenge any in the third day’s batch – maybe they were more choosy what to show us. And we don’t know how many they sent to cure before choosing what to show us.
So 75/622 = 12% that were questionable, and 16/622 (2.6%) were “when pigs fly,” which is probably closer to where the rejection rate should have been. Googling the nationwide rate of rejected absentee/mail-in ballots yielded the result that it was lower in 2020 (0.8%) than in 2018 (1.4%) and 2016 (1.0%). So what was the rate of rejected signatures in Alachua County?
A public records request yielded the following statistics:
Did not match
16 of 16,551
2020 August Primary
43 of 34,009
2020 November General
49 of 61,819
2022 August Primary
51 of 20,828
2022 November General
25 of 31,463
What is the takeaway? The Alachua County rate of rejection is WAY lower than the national average. How interesting that both November elections had the same tiny rate of rejection. Pretty much everything gets accepted! So how much confidence can we have in the legitimacy of the signatures on the ballot envelopes? Once it’s accepted, the ballot enters the pool and cannot be reclaimed or questioned.
I have requested access to VBM ballot signature matching for the High Springs upcoming election. I hope to see almost all of the ballots instead of a “random” sample. Interestingly, the City Clerk does NOT have access to signatures on file. She is holding the envelopes that are received and sending scans to the SOE office for matching. It’s good that the envelopes are not traveling all over the county, with the potential for loss.
No intent of preventing anyone from casting a vote is intended by inspecting ballot envelope signatures. However, ballot harvesters and fraudsters can easily forge a signature from online documents, and how would that be caught? There is no way from looking at a signature to determine who actually penned it, unless you are forensically trained and have a lot of time to examine.
To assure authenticity of the voter identity, we need to go back to Qualified Vote by Mail, for those unable to present themselves physically for early voting or on election day. There are ample opportunities for in-person voting and the pandemic excuse is worthless, when people are in public all the time. While VBM ballots are allowed, the Alachua County SOE office needs to tighten its standards for matching signatures.
Judith Jensen, High Springs
The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to email@example.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.
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