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.

View comments (46)
Read the Terms of Use


.... voter id laws have their own set problems. Namely not everyone has an id. A lack of ids seems to be more common in poorer or minority neighborhoods.


Sure! Send your drivers licence in along with your ballot!


This sounds like mail in ballots as I have never had to sign a voter sheet, ever. Yes, you do have to sign in on the logbook, but I have never seen anyone check. Or, do they bring it back to the office, then check and reject? If so, sounds fishy to me, perhaps having id would work..


How about all the illegals that voted, who were encouraged to do so by Dems,in California? Remember Obama's interview in California where he urged illegals to vote & told them nothing would happen? California has more unregistered illegals than any other state (they're now a Sanctuary State) and when they come into America the Democrats meet them with a welcome basket that includes a Democrat Election registration form! That's the only reason why Hillary won California. And how about the states that appear to have inconsistencies in their voter forms but the state refuses to turn anything over to our government to be looked into? What are they hiding? It's a joke. Voting is an American privilege and every illegal that votes is wiping out the vote of an American. We should have voter id cards to know that our votes are counted and that it's done legally!


That doesn't work for mail in ballots, and the article already said they match them to what is on file when you registered.


This is crap. I changed my signature last year because I was signing my whole name. It got tiring so I switched to my first two initials and last name. Wow. That sucks.


If you take a few moments to read the information provided online by state of California regarding valid signatures, it is perfectly acceptable to substitute initials for your first and middle name. Specifically it states that a vote is considered valid if:

"Voter uses a variation of the signature appearing on the affidavit of voter registration caused by the substitution of initials for the first or middle name, or both, and the signature compares with that on the affidavit of registration."


Just checked my vote by mail ballot at the registrar website. No record of my ballot. Will call them tomorrow. My signature always varies a bit. Nice to know the validators aren't even trained in handwriting recognition. SMFH


Thank you for doing this. A few years ago I received a notice from San Francisco saying my ballot was not counted because my signature did not "match." At least they let me know, but this was after the election was called so I figured there was no point arguing with them. I was especially upset because I researched every proposition and candidate in detail.

The thing is, of course my signature did not match. The one they have on file is probably from my drivers license, and who can honestly write a signature with one of those bulbous electric pens at the DMV? Furthermore, I wouldn't even say I have "a signature." It's not really something they teach you in school, and it's not really important for going about life. Signatures are ignored all the time. I don't think my right to vote should be taken away because I don't have a spiffy signature.

Pat Lala

This is horrifying. I do not even know what my 'signature' is, is it P, or Pat Or Patricia or ????????? I always use a mail in ballot, and have never bothered to see if it was counted. I am a member of the ACLU and glad I am.


Stay Informed