Jensen: My experience with signature verification at the Supervisor of Elections Office

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:

ElectionDid not matchNumber rejectedPercentage rejectedNumber Cured

2020 PPP1616 of 16,5510.09794
2020 August Primary4343 of 34,0090.126190
2020 November General4949 of 61,8190.079405
2022 August Primary5151 of 20,8280.245100
2022 November General2525 of 31,4630.07969

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 info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • Excellent analysis. I completely agree it’s essential, and you must have in place a more reliable system. Voter IDs must be in person and checked.
    Current methods could be compromised and election integrity questioned! Citizens must be assured the process works. Fix this system or abandon the vote by mail.

  • Excellent presentation. Everyone should be concerned about vote by mail. Needs to be more secure.Too many times we hear people get two or three vote by mail ballots who didn’t even request it. Also monitoring voter roles is important. More attention to deceased voters. Vote for Judith Jensen for SOE 2024.

  • Let me guess. You voted for tRUmp, right? And you think the election was stolen.

    • Everyone should want a system in which the integrity of the results is not questionable. Voter rolls should be purged every election cycle.

    • 2020 was definitely stolen. By state courts and governors illegally changing voting procedures, instead of the only letting state legislatures do that, as required by the Constitution.
      That and many other anomalies gave us FJB today.

  • Thank you Judith for taking the time to explain this process and for your tireless effort to make election integrity a priority in Alachua County!

  • Signature verification is BS🐂. Everyone gets ONE (1) ballot. Nobody but the voter will fill out the ballot. What do you think a voter is going to do if they don’t get their ballot? They’re going to contact the supervisor of elections office and complain! This is just yet another voter suppression make it hard to vote tactic by republican fascists.

    • Signature verification is VOTER verification! Plain and simple.
      THOUSANDS of ballots are mailed to former UF students that have long since moved out of state, but the ballots are harvested (often for $$$), and submitted by a 3rd party as fraudulent votes.
      Every fraudulent vote cancels a citizen’s vote. This is the worst kind of cancellation.

  • I agree with someone i heard a little while ago stating ‘no more mail outs’ only military and sick and infirm. And create a holiday for voting day so people have time to go vote. Then these crooks complaining that it isn’t fair, can’t.

    • I’ve lived in several countries in Asia, the Middle East, and South America. Everyone votes on one day, in person. Getting an Absentee Ballot is nearly impossible, even for military members who are well away from home. Also, no ID, no ballot – in Colombia even!

  • Mail in signatures should have two people verifying, like banks do (or used to). Ideally two workers with neutral or bipartisan backgrounds. They should NOT look at anything else except the signature, to minimize prejudice over ethnic or funny names.

    • They do, Jeff, IF it gets to the cavassing board. What is done behind doors BEFORE a questionable ballot goes to the board is anybody’s guess.

  • Kim Barton has done nothing to ensure fair, honest elections, stretching state law to its limits and beyond. Just as inept and unqualified for her position as a public servant as the other local machine politicians.

  • My official state ID or Driver license with my photo on it should work just fine. Everyone’s got one! Facial recognition is more reliable than trying to match a signature on a card.

    • That doesn’t work for mail in ballots, however. That’s why the fraudsters use them to circumvent the visual ID verification.

  • Thanks, Judith, for your experience-based insight.

    The low signature challenge rate does raise the issue of registering every cycle for absentee/mail-in ballots. Signatures can change over time and depending on mood and other factors of the ‘signee.’

    It does appear the QVM system is the way to go.

    There is a political component to all this which you wisely left unsaid.

    It is in the interest of the Democrat Party candidates to have their registered majority voters turn out to vote especially when not favored by Independents with no party affiliation. Relaxing the standards of voter ID requirements serves that purpose when connected to such things as the US House’s Democrat $20-million national voter registration campaign announced in September.

    So, yes, Judith, there is a heavy hand on the scales at SOE nationwide. “Reasonable reliance on the presentation” of an acceptable ID under law is the standard with no presumptions of validity. Otherwise, SOE would just take voters’ word alone they are eligible.

    • This isn’t true you moron. Old people believe everything they read on the internet. Old people should take training on how to interact with the internet.

  • An excellent analysis as well as insights. I have served on the canvassing board many times and noted, with regard to absentee ballot signatures that we only see what staff brings to us (gotta’ trust staff). When they are brought to us, far more often than not they are approved by the board (as the writer asserts). In fact, we, the Board, pretty much will take anything if it is close…..still, there has to be something that indicates it is the person. The biggest problem I had with the system (when I first served I thought everybody was honest) was that I realized it was entirely possible were NOT seeing some that were clearly not the voter.

  • It seems to be time for a lawsuit against Ms. Barton for her ingenuous application of the new transparency law. Maybe Mr. Childer’s office can be convinced to take it up.

  • “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.” Didn’t they use grant money to purchase a signature verification machine?

    Weren’t they awarded a grant of $707,606 in 2020 by the Chicago-based Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL).

    The SOE even wrote a press release about it and mentioned a few of the investments that will be made. 1) Vote-by-mail ballot signature verification hardware and software that will allow the office to more fairly. 2) Equipment to assist with the processing of vote-by-mail ballots. 3) Voter outreach and education, focusing heavily on promoting voting by mail.

    Press Release: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Alachua-County-Supervisor-of-Elections-awarded-more-than–700-000.html?soid=1129404307418&aid=qgXzwoUGIPg

  • As hard as I try I can’t let some of the comments slide.

    “THOUSANDS of ballots are mailed to former UF students that have long since moved out of state, but the ballots are harvested…”

    Republican Party officials acknowledged this past summer it is in the Party’s interest to adopt and encourage mail-in ballots.


    Until this past May, Fla was a member of ERIC, an organization that assists member states in cleaning up their voter rolls(i.e, no more THOUSANDS of former UF student ballots going to their former Alachua Co addresses); WAS a member until the DeSantis administration quit ERIC, and did so without a backup plan.

    “Just as inept and unqualified for her [Barton] position…”

    Then why not report her, along with your evidence, to the governor so he can suspend her? Being “inept and unqualified” are clear and compelling grounds for removal.

    “So, yes, Judith, there is a heavy hand on the scales at SOE nationwide.”

    Even in offices run by true believing Republicans?

    “…with regard to absentee ballot signatures that we only see what staff brings to us (gotta’ trust staff).”

    By law, there is a “cure” process which allows the voter to come in after voting and clear-up any questions before the ballot goes to the Canvassing Board. Rather than being evidence of nefarious activity isn’t it just possible the cure process is working and removing the ballot from the reject pile before reaching the Canvassing Board?

    “When they are brought to us, far more often than not they are approved by the board (as the writer asserts). In fact, we, the Board, pretty much will take anything if it is close…”

    And, as the article’s writer stated, she and her friend had issues with an additional seventy-five ballots that they could have challenged but didn’t. So can’t the Canvassing Board apply her same reasoning and standards?

    Also, the article was about their experience with SOE and then jumps to the Canvassing Board which is NOT a part of the SOE. Journalistic standards dictate some kind of disclosure of this material fact.

    Another comment by JD states, “I realized it was entirely possible we’re NOT seeing some that were clearly not the voter.”

    Situation should have been reported to Tallahassee (assuming JD was in Fla). By not doing so you were now, by your own admission, an accessory to “possible” voter fraud.

    Now…for some of my concerns.

    The author states, “The challenge form is meant to be daunting.”

    Fair enough. What I’d like to know, as it was left unsaid for some reason, is whose form is it? Did the form design originate with Alachua Co SOE or state government in Tallahassee?

    The author compared Alachua Co’s rejection rate with the rest of the nation, a comparison that is unequivocally and totally INVALID by way of violating a number of statistical methodology protocols.

    But aside from that, what I’d like to know is why not compare us with the rest of the state or with…, oh, I don’t know…, maybe the rest of the counties in the 8th Judicial Circuit?

    Just wondering.

  • >