We’re Suing California Because It Threw Out More Than 45,000 Ballots in the 2016 Presidential Election Over Handwriting ‘Mismatches’

In last year’s presidential election, 45,000 California voters were unknowingly disenfranchised. Their right to vote wasn’t curtailed because anyone questioned their eligibility or registration. They weren’t late sending in their ballot. They weren’t accused of doing anything wrong.

Rather their vote didn’t count because an election official thought the voter’s signature on the mail-in ballot envelope didn’t match the voter’s signature on file. Officials make this determination without expertise in handwriting analysis.

What’s worse, the county elections officials are not required to notify voters before their ballots are rejected; many voters don’t find out that their vote was not counted until after the election is over and the final vote tally announced, if at all.

If you think that’s a recipe for widespread voter disenfranchisement, you’re correct. And the reason is simple: handwriting varies.

Signatures may have variations for a number of reasons. Signatures can change over time or with a change in the writer’s physical condition. Signatures may vary depending on whether the writer is standing or sitting and what instrument or surface they use to sign. Many voters do not have a consistent signature style and may simply not know that they are supposed to sign their ballot in the same way that they signed their registration.

Unfortunately, if we don't make changes, it’s only going to get worse. Last year, California passed the Voter’s Choice Act. Under the law, all voters in participating counties will receive mail-in ballots beginning in 2018. In a state where more than half of all voters are already voting by mail, the law dramatically increases the likelihood that more residents will vote by mail. Giving more options to voters is a good thing. But under the current system, more voters will be exposed to the signature match requirement and possible disenfranchisement.

There’s more.

Because the state lacks uniform standards for comparing signatures, some counties have higher ballot rejection rates than others, as do certain demographic groups.

A voter whose native script is written right to left or in non-Latin characters may show more variation when signing their name in English. Minority groups are affected the most. Asian-Americans voters, Latino voters, and voters born outside of the United States are disproportionately disenfranchised by a perceived signature non-match.

The problem is also not limited to California. In May, the ACLU sued New Hampshire for throwing out our client Mary Saucedo’s ballot because, at 94 years old and legally blind, she could not sign a matching signature. States can correct this constitutional violation by, at a minimum, providing voters with notice that their signature may not match and an opportunity to explain or correct the discrepancy.

Each incorrectly rejected ballot denies a voter their fundamental right to have their vote counted. And as we well know, the disenfranchisement of comparatively few voters can sway elections. California should correct this dangerous practice of voter disenfranchisement immediately.

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Briana Valois

Because every citizen of this country has the right to vote unless it's been taken away by a court!


Goofy ACLU objects to any restrictions on voting. I fully expect the ACLU to sue to allow tourists to vote.


You're next, George.


Florida was/is doing this as well!


Who do I contact inside California to get this changed legislatively? My signature is wildly variant in it's appearance with limited vertical space.


Are you serious? Who do you contact to "to get this changed legislatively?" Are you that fucking stupid? You contact your representative of course!

Ashley W

This person seems to be trying to genuinely engage in the legislative process. There is no need to call them names. If all we do with those trying to learn how to make change is chastise them for not already knowing, then no one will get involved. Help pull others up instead of knocking them down!


Start with your local elections official, likely the County Clerk-Recorder. Ask how many ballots were disqualified due to signature mis-matching. Ask how mis-matching is quantified, express concern about potential error in the process. Encourage the office to hire an independent handwriting expert to review the past work of the office. If a significant level of error is acceptable to the Clerk's office, and they balk about correcting it, then relay all that to the local media. All ballot qualification is ultimately in the control of the local elections official. In some jurisdictions, the Clerk is an elected office, others may be appointed by the Board of Supervisors, or their equivalent. I wouldn't waste my time at the state level, IMO.


One of our grassroots group members was an Election Observer for a Democratic candidate. She witnessed firsthand the Republican candidate's Election Observer challenging all the signatures of people with Hispanic last names. Since hers is also a Hispanic name, she checked online and found that her ballot had been challenged, too! She call the Registrar three times demanding her ballot be accepted. Eventually, the online record showed it was accepted. People are being disenfranchised!


Maybe we should start showing some kind of ID to prove we are who we say we are when voting. That would eliminate the signature concerns, right?


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