Whether it’s seen as an anchor of trust or a hump in the road, the analysis of signatures continues to play a big part in validating voting in Kitsap County.
So when over 1,200 ballots were returned to voters due to lack of a matching signature or any signature altogether, election officials looked to provide clarity on signature matching and why it’s so crucial to the counting process.
Steve Gardner of the auditor’s office reported that 1,202 ballots were rejected due to signature issues; 861 because they didn’t match signatures that are on file. The remaining were rejected due to no signature. Gardner said the original number was higher but had fallen as some ballots were revalidated.
Gardner said signatures are a key indicator of potential voter fraud.
“There’s a bunch of different characteristics that go into your signature,” he said. “As you get much older, your signature is still the same signature, just maybe not as smooth … It gets a little bit shakier, but all of those characteristics remain the same.”
But Andrews recalled one man who sent in nine different signatures used for different situations after his ballot was challenged.
All of those characteristics come under inspection. Even before each sealed ballot is opened, the signature on each envelope is looked over. Character structure, flow of the signature, spacing, heights and other traits help determine if the signature is valid.
“The ballot itself is not rejected,” Gardner said. “We have no clue what is contained on the ballot inside the envelope. I just want to be clear that this is just about a signature at this point.”
The signature is compared to past signatures, and, if challenged by the first checker, will then be analyzed by hand to account for any technological mistakes. The envelope is passed on to checkers, then leads with more experience and finally, permanent election staff in supervisors before a final decision is made.
“Before the voter is ever notified their signature has been challenged, we’ve looked at it multiple times,” Gardner said. “Ultimately, if all agree that this doesn’t match, then we send a letter to the address we have on file, the same one that we send the ballot to.”
It’s not just the elderly with issues. Ages 18-24 also have issues. Andrews said one out of three in that group will have their signature challenged. “The signature they use in school is one the teachers can read and was very legible. Once they get out of school, their signature changes; it evolves,” he said. “It becomes personalized to them, and it loses the characteristics that made it easy for a teacher to read and know who the student was.”
While a challenge means the vote is not initially counted, it does not mean the ballot is thrown out. Andrews said the letter sent to voters asks them to provide another signature that will then be used to reevaluate the ballot. “Now, if we don’t hear back from you as we get closer to that 20-day mark, we will try other means to reach out to you,” he said.
Voters are given until the certification of the election to correct the issue.
Andrews said election workers try to give each voter as many chances as possible to resolve their ballots. That work continues even now between elections as his office asks voters to update their signatures.
“We want the experience for the voters to be good, so we’ve taken the approach of trying to be more proactive in getting those signatures updated so they have a good voting experience,” he said.