“How Good Is Your Electronic Trackpad Signature?”

Matt Ford for TNR:

What was your signature like at eighteen? Is it still the same? In the wake of the 2018 midterms, the American electoral system is under scrutiny again—as, in fact, it seems to be almost every two years now. This year, razor-thin margins in Florida and Georgia are drawing fresh attention to allegations of voter suppression and incidents of electoral mismanagement. And now, the recount in Florida has given absentee voters until Saturday to make sure that ballots originally thrown away are counted.

Florida, Georgia, and Rhode Island are three out of several states still requiring a signature match for absentee voters. In practice, what that means is letting election officials check the signature somewhere on the absentee ballot against the signature on an application or a form of government ID. Over the past year, judges in California and New Hampshire have struck down the requirements, declaring they unconstitutionally deprived voters of their right to cast a ballot and have it counted. The process’ implementation in other states is also raising alarms. Among other problems, the policy places a disproportionate burden on voters with disabilities, elderly voters, and others. It’s also strikingly unnecessary and unscientific.

It’s reasonable to try to make sure that the person who casts an absentee ballot is the same person who applied for it. One doesn’t need to be a handwriting expert, though, to see why signature-match laws could be problematic. A person’s signature often changes throughout their life, and in hasty circumstances a well-crafted one can be abandoned in lieu of a scrawled scribble. When it comes to electronic signature pads, all bets are off—as anyone who’s ever seen their own baffling jottings on one of those devices well knows. Nonetheless, Florida election officials use signatures taken from those pads while at the state department of motor vehicles as the basis for comparison to a print signature on Election Day.


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