CLC Compels Change to Problematic Arizona Signature Matching Policy

Issues
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Absentee ballot
Photo by Bill Oxford

In Arizona, around 80% of voters choose to receive a mail-in ballot. Despite the ubiquity of voting by mail, thousands of ballots have been uncounted because of an alleged “mismatched” signature, as judged by election officials (not handwriting experts). Adding to the injustice, many voters were unaware that their vote was at risk until it was too late to correct the error, if they found out at all. Thanks to unanimously passed legislation this session, all voters will have notice of an alleged “mismatch” and the opportunity to confirm their signatures and make sure their voice is heard.

This legislative move is the direct result of advocacy by CLC and other legal and state partners in 2018 to challenge the disenfranchisement by handwriting that threatened Arizona voters in each election cycle. On behalf of a coalition of groups, CLC sent an October 2018 letter to the Secretary of State and all county recorders demanding that all voters get the same notice and opportunity to confirm any “mismatched” signatures. At the time, notification of a potential signature mismatch was dependent on what county the voter lived in and when a ballot was received by the county. Select voters had the opportunity to fix their signature while others were rejected unbeknownst to the voter.

As a result of our coalition’s advocacy, Pima, Maricopa, and Coconino Counties all confirmed that they would provide notice to all voters before a ballot was rejected because of a signature “mismatch.” Ultimately, the lack of a statewide standard lead to a legal battle. CLC and coalition partners successfully defended the constitutional right for all Arizonans, regardless of where in the state they live, to cure signature concerns. In Maricopa County alone, this led to the counting of at least 7,000 additional ballots. In 2018, similar signature issues arose in Georgia and Florida

After this legal battle, the Arizona Legislature took notice and provided a legislative fix. The new law affirms the due process right of voters across the state to confirm their identity as long as they submit their ballot on time. No longer will Arizona voters find out – after the fact – that their vote didn’t count because an election official disapproved of their penmanship.

Danielle litigates voting rights and redistricting cases before state and federal courts.
Mo provides research and writing support to program staff across all of CLC’s issue areas.