With modern technology, there are many ways to verify an individual's identity. Yet voter verification in Florida relies on one of the most ancient (and often unreliable) means of identification — the matching of a signature.
That can cause problems, because signatures change for a variety of reasons. And though elections officials urge people to update their signatures, they often don't. The problem is particularly acute for younger voters and seniors.
Florida, and other states that rely on matching signatures to verify voters, should start looking for a better way — or at least an alternative for those who are uncertain whether their signatures will match.
The biggest challenges come when authenticating mail ballots. Because voters don't cast those ballots in person, there's no ID to check. And thus, voting officials have learned to be lenient.
That shows in the relatively small percentage of ballots flagged as failed signature matches. But it's hard to be comfortable with procedures that might cost any legitimate voters the right to have their ballot counted, even though most supervisors reach out to people who have submitted mail ballots to give them a chance to "cure" a signature problem. At the same time, overly lax standards open the door to organized voter fraud. And — as a federal judge pointed out in the aftermath of Florida's 2018 recount drama — the lack of statewide standards for signature comparison injects a high degree of arbitrariness into the process.
Even at the polls, that subjective analysis can be a problem. In the days after the election, media outlets (including The New York Times) reported voters who were challenged over nonmatching signatures at the polls. The Daytona Beach News Journal, The News Herald's sister paper, received calls from voters who had the same experience — including one who said she was required to vote on a provisional ballot because her signature on a small electronic screen didn't match the signature on the voter rolls, even though the voter was standing in front of the poll worker with a state-issued ID card.
That should not have happened, Lewis says — and poll workers are explicitly told during training that as long as the ID matches, the voter should be given a regular ballot. But older poll workers probably remember a time when signatures did have to match, she says.
Florida might want to wait before abandoning signatures entirely as a form of voter verification. After all, many of the options — such as personal identification codes (or PINS), fingerprint verification or other electronic means — might result in voters being locked out as well because they don't have access to the technology required.
The best solution may be to abandon a "one-means-fits-all" standard and give voters multiple ways to establish their identity. Carefully handled, that would preserve ballot access while providing reasonable insurance against voter fraud.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD