During every election in Washington, tens of thousands of ballots are rejected because ballot envelope signatures are flagged as not matching how they’ve looked in the past.
In the Nov. 8 midterm alone, nearly 27,000 ballots were challenged based on signature comparisons by election workers, according to the secretary of state’s office.
A new lawsuit seeks to ban such signature rejections as unconstitutional, pointing to data suggesting they’re subjective, error-plagued and disproportionately disenfranchise young people, people with disabilities and people of color.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court by three nonprofit groups that work to boost voter turnout: Vet Voice Foundation, Washington Bus and El Centro de la Raza. Three King County voters whose ballots were rejected because of signature challenges also are plaintiffs.
The 39-page complaint names as defendants Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, King County Elections Director Julie Wise and two members of the King County canvassing board.
Washington state law requires county elections offices to scrutinize signatures on ballots and verify that they match the signature on file for the voter.
It’s a requirement aimed at stopping vote fraud — such signature checks are frequently cited by elections officials as a reason to trust the state’s mail-ballot system is secure — but the new lawsuit argues the checks do far more harm than good.
The complaint notes documented cases of voter fraud are “extremely rare” in Washington and that “few, if any” such cases have been caught and prosecuted based on signature matching.
“Therefore, Washington’s Signature Matching Procedure has disenfranchised tens of thousands of lawful voters for no discernible benefit,” states the complaint filed by Kevin Hamilton, a Seattle attorney and election law expert who has represented the Democratic Party in election disputes across the country, along with three other attorneys at the law firm Perkins Coie.
While voters can “cure” ballot signature challenges by filling out a form, many do not and their votes go uncounted.