Vote-by-Mail voting (VBM)

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Signature Verification Issues

The following comments were copied in from the Election Integrity List from July 8, 2020

Peter B. Collins

In my podcast today, I covered this report from The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jul/08/mail-in-ballots-rejected-small-errors

In some jurisdictions, 10% of VBM ballots are rejected. Issues of signature matching appear to be the greatest cause. I've long argued this is one of the big vulnerabilities of VBM, as the staff people who make the call about signature match have no apparent training as graphologists. This can lead to arbitrary decisions that vary widely from one county to the next, and even one election worker to the next. I'm not aware of any standard and/or transparent process, or multiple reviews, that enable us to trust the review and rejection process.

If you wish, you can listen to my comments here, starting at 30:30 https://www.peterbcollins.com/2020/07/08/pbc-news-comment-supreme-court-favors-religious-discrimination/

One of my key points is that any given individual has several styles of signature: full name, initials, quick scrawl--with a range from perfect penmanship to almost illegible. Most voters don't remember which style they used on their registration form, and so the one they use on the VBM envelope could be different than the one on file, but still be their true signature. Clarity of handwriting can decline with age or illness, and even the pen used can affect a signature. While some rejected VBM voters will get a notice that their ballot was discarded, that will also vary widely from county to county. And, most likely, any notice will not allow the voter to "cure" the defect in time for their vote to be counted. As we saw in the CD-10 NC VBM harvesting scheme, insider election fraud is of greater concern to me than potential voter fraud.

In the NJ primary, I'm not sure how many races were close. But 10% is a BFD, given the recent history of thin election margins.

If there are safeguards or reviews in place that address these issues, please let me know--this group is well-versed on the technical aspects of elections--and I'd be relieved to learn that my concerns are being addressed.

Chris Sautter

Election Integrity Team:

FYI. I have considerable experience with the problems related to signature mismatch in mail voting. I've litigated the issue and observed it over dozens of election recounts. A rejection rate of 10% for vote-by-mail is unusual. The more normal rejection rate is in the 2% range. Signature mismatches produce the greatest number of absentee ballots, though some are rejected for not being mailed or received on time. Others like a signature altogether. With the increase of vote-by-mail and the tendency of election offices to send ballots out with little time to return, there is increasingly a large number of ballots that don't arrive on time.

An important point with respect to signature mismatches is that while the signature requirement is designed to prevent fraud virtually none of the rejections are related to fraud. Nearly every one of the signatures that are deemed not a match were made by the actual voter, i.e., in nearly all cases these rejected ballots were cast by legitimate voters whose signatures are deemed not to match the signature on file. Occasionally, a parent will sign for an over 18 child. Sometimes a spouse will sign for both spouses. But most are legitimate except the signatures are deemed not to match the signature on voter registration forms. In other words, tens of thousands of ballots are being rejected every election for signature mismatch even though the ballots in question were filled out and signed by eligible voters.

So why are there so many rejections? In my experience, three major reasons:

1) The signatures of some voters change between when they registered and the time when their mail ballot is rejected. Many of these voters are older voters whose signatures have changed but there are also younger voters who haven't settled on a legal signature. Some voters who have become disabled since first registering to vote also have trouble matching their signature to the signature on file and thus have their ballots rejected.

2) Some voters don't realize their signature must match what is on file with their voter registration forms. They believe they are simply affirming that they are the person who filled out the ballot and the person whose name is on the ballot envelope. There are very few jurisdictions where there is notice on the ballot envelope advising the voter that their signature must match the signature on the voter registration form.

3) Election officials who have little or insufficient training and are not qualified to make determinations regarding signature matches are rejecting the ballots of legitimate voters, sometimes making mistakes because of the press of time or because they simply don't have the skills to make such determinations. Also, rarely are there clear standards with respect to accepting and rejecting signatures.

Some states--most in response to lawsuits--are giving voters whose ballots are being rejected due to signature mismatch some opportunity to correct the signature in order for the ballot envelope to be opened and counted. Oregon, for example, posts on the Secretary of State's website the names of voters whose ballots have been rejected due to signature mismatch. They also call voters and send them postcards. Some other states are beginning to contact voters who then in effect re-register with a current signature. However, even in states like Oregon there are thousands of ballots statewide that are rejected due to signature mismatch each election.

Chris Sautter

Harvie Branscomb

Peter Collins has opened up a topic that is tragically hidden and becomes partisan inevitably because of the demographics of inherent bias in the signature comparison and signature cure processes- none of which are regulated or observed even 10% as much as tabulation is.

Some of the process of signature verification is automatic. And much of the human signature comparison takes place after narrow margins are known- especially in CA and WA where postmark rules are in place.

Signature-based eligibility check is highly mechanized in some counties and partly in almost all counties that I am aware of. Devices are not certified and may not be tested and are at least sometimes connected to the internet.

Peter implies that voter disenfranchisement is the primary defect mode but that is not at all clear to me. In CA and CO where I have direct experience every decision and every policy leans toward approval of envelope signatures- to a point nearing the ridiculous.

CO has a guide to help make signature comparison more consistent and machine-like. One county brings in experts for a final check before the cure process starts.

There are so many details that it would require pages to be written to delve in. I have been learning how to collect data and trying to collect it for years. Today is the day the audit begins in the CO primary. I have downloaded hourly cure data on the cure process but it takes time to evaluate it.

Because of PII it is nearly impossible to evaluate the comparison process using actual signatures. In some places the luve process can be observed. In some of those it can be challenged and I have.

I can say that almost everywhere any excuse for matching two signatures will be made because of the widespread generous assumption that signature fraud isn't taking place and the fear of consequences of making a mistake.

The absolute number of signatures going to cure is not a direct quantitative measure of low accuracy in the eligibility system. It may represent defect in the eligibility of the presumed voter in addition to a weakness in the ability of the system to detect the identity of the presumed voter.

At present you will not likely see the details of cure statistics. I am attempting to gather them.

Similarly you will not likely see details of means of electronic delivery and return of remote voted ballots. That is another weak area for election integrity where convenience has overwhelmed the desire for security and accuracy.

Harvie Branscomb
http://electionquality.com

Harvie Responds to Chris Sautter

Original message by Chris Sauter with my inline comments marked as HB- '> and his as CS->.

It is great time hear from another expert watching the "sigver" process.

CS->:Election Integrity Team: FYI. I have considerable experience with the problems related to signature mismatch in mail voting. I've litigated the issue and observed it over dozens of election recounts. A rejection rate of 10% for vote-by-mail is unusual.

HB-> Best if we disambiguate the challenge percentage from the finally rejected percentage. Also it is crucial to separate the missing signature and missing ID cure opportunities from the signature mismatch. Signature missing is more clearly a failure to follow instructions. These cure cases are often casually combined. Probably all within the 10% number. Even in mail ballot states these statistics are not easy to obtain in public.

Yes officials try to keep the signature mismatch challenge percentage closer to 3% or less. And yes this topic could and probably will even more so pay lawyers salaries in narrow margin outcome challenges.

CS-> An important point with respect to signature mismatches is that while the signature requirement is designed to prevent fraud virtually none of the rejections are related to fraud.

HB-> This is a statement for which supportive data isn't available to my knowledge. If there is data I would love to see it. Because of distance, PII, and voter privacy, ground truth about eligibility for remote voting isn't readily available. Virtually no official followup on challenged and rejected signatures is done ( that I am aware of). When it happens it is usually partisans chasing cures to benefit their vote totals and they do not publish their findings for obvious reasons.

CS->Nearly every one of the signatures that are deemed not a match were made by the actual voter, i.e., in nearly all cases these rejected ballots were cast by legitimate voters whose signatures are deemed not to match the signature on file.

HB-> There is no way to substantiate this to my knowledge. If there is, let's hear it. Perhaps Chris can cite litigation where evidence about identity and eligibility better than signatures was shown to verify the signatures.

CS->So why are there so many rejections? In my experience, three major reasons: 1) The signatures of some voters change between when they registered and the time when their mail ballot is rejected.

HB-> In CA this could have some effect but "liberal construction" allows officials to be lenient. In CO the initial reference signature is the one that returned on the previous election envelope, then other signatures are examined for reference. If there is anything in the database to substantiate a match it will be looked for.

CS->2) Some voters don't realize their signature must match what is on file with their voter registration forms.

HB-> In CO any part of any of many different signatures stored for the voter including from all elections may be used to match. In CO and CA printed text on registration forms can be used to match. There are many opportunities to find xdr a matching characteristic.

CS-> 3) Election officials who have little or insufficient training and are not qualified to make determinations regarding signature matches.

HB-> This is correct and that is one reason the decisions tend to be lenient and the processes I am aware of are designed to be lenient. Any one individual ( and sometimes a computer) can approve a signature in CO but it takes several decisions and more than one person to challenge a signature followed by a permissive cure process that can remedy any mistake and can actually be used fraudulently.

HB-> There is no mechanism to detect fraudulent signing in CO or CA. It is discovered only by chance. There are a few famous cases and others that simply arent reported.

HB-> Here is more of the detail:

  • Some young voters never learned how to sign.
  • Motor voter signature collection often uses tablets that collect signatures different from signatures on paper.
  • Automated signature verification can't detect a printed ( not wet signed) signature
  • The CO cure process requires only a mailed in or faxed or emailed in statement that "I returned my voted ballot" and any signature whatsoever and a copy of the voter's election ID ( utility bill etc.)
  • In my experience of years of watching "sigver" the person sending in the ballot always gets the benefit of doubt.

But there is so much that can be improved.

Harvie

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Project Form edit

Project Name Vote-by-Mail voting (VBM)
Project Description Review of all the concerns around VBM voting and processing
Project Founder Ray Lutz
Project Curator Ray Lutz
Project Type Issue Oversight
Project Parents Election Integrity
Related Keywords Audit Engine, Election Audits, Election Equipment, Snapshot Protocol, Election Audit Lawsuit, Snapshot Protocol
Project Status Active
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Forum Link
List Serve Topic Election Integrity List
Topic revision: r4 - 2020-07-10, RaymondLutz - This page was cached on 2020-09-28 14:35:13.

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