I Had My Ballot Rejected Because of My Handwriting

Maria Romo wearing a winter hat standing on a beach with the water behind her
Maria Romo, a plaintiff in CLC’s lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s signature match policy. Photo courtesy of Maria Romo.

The author, Maria Fallon Romo, age 53, is a plaintiff in Campaign Legal Center’s (CLC) lawsuit challenging North Dakota’s signature match policy.

I am Maria Fallon Romo, and I have been a special education para educator in the public school district in Grand Forks, North Dakota for 17 years. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) when I was 30. MS has made my hands and fingers numb, which causes difficulties with my handwriting. I was denied the right to vote in 2018 because my signature on my absentee ballot did not match the one that I provided on my ballot envelope. I’m telling my story because this is a critical election year, and people aren’t aware that they can have their ballot thrown away because of their handwriting.

Politically Active From a Young Age

Voting was always important to me. I grew up in a politically active family that talked politics at the dinner table. When I was old enough to vote, it was expected that I would vote. Similarly, when my child turned 18, I was excited to go with them to participate. It was the presidential election in 2012.

Over the course of about 30 years as an active voter, I never experienced any problems.

Ballot Rejected

That all changed in 2018.

I just learned a couple weeks ago that my 2018 ballot was rejected. It is really unfortunate that the state uses a signature match policy and throws away your ballot without giving you the opportunity to correct it. This needs to change.

It is not uncommon for local elections in North Dakota to be decided by fewer votes than the number rejected. In 2018 alone, six races were decided by such razor thin margins that ballots rejected for a mismatch could have swung those elections.

My MS has always affected my fingers, and writing has been a challenge throughout my decades of living with this disease. I try my best to write legibly (using a special large-width pen), but I did not think my worsening handwriting would be used against me.

The state doesn’t use handwriting experts to determine whether the same curves, peaks and points in my signature match up. So how could they guess whether the two signatures are mine? I’m not sure what the state was trying to do with this policy. My name and address all match, so why would my signature need to as well?

Remedy Needed for 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced states and localities to consider expanding remote voting options to protect public health, an increased percentage of Americans cast their votes by mail in each recent election.

Grand Forks, North Dakota has an upcoming mayoral election in June, and the whole country will vote for president in November. I’m hoping to vote by mail. My story is one of many. My state should not penalize me for my illness; I want to have confidence that my vote will count.

That’s why I’ve joined CLC as a plaintiff in the lawsuit to ensure that North Dakota no longer rejects ballots because of poor penmanship. We are asking for notice from the state, and an opportunity to verify our identify.

Democracy works best when every eligible voter participates. All eligible voters should be able to have confidence that when they participate in an election, their vote will be counted.