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Mismatched signatures prompt tossed absentee ballots, legal fights ahead of election

September 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

A workers prepares absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. North Carolina is scheduled to begin sending out more than 600,000 requested absentee ballots to voters on Friday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Remember hanging chads, Florida's 2000 election nightmare? The 2020 equivalent could wind up being mismatched signatures.

With voting already underway in two states, Democrats and Republicans are drawing battle lines across the country over voter signatures for mail-in ballots, with lawsuits over how signatures are evaluated and whether voters can fix ballots that get tossed.

Legal fights over absentee votes aren't a new phenomenon, but they've taken on a newfound importance because of the surge in requests for mail-in ballots and states expanding access to vote-by-mail and, in some cases, conducting elections almost entirely by mail for the first time.

Democrats, including the party's House and Senate campaign arms, have invested millions this election cycle in legal efforts aimed at voting laws, including trying to make it easier for voters' ballots to be accepted and for those ballots to be "cured" if a ballot is rejected.

While the numbers are very preliminary since early voting began on September 4, about 2% of the roughly 10,000 absentee ballots returned as of Friday had been rejected because of some issue, including potential signature problems, according to data from the state's board of elections.

In 19 states, officials are required to notify voters of their signature discrepancy and give them an opportunity to fix or "cure" their absentee ballot in order to be counted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday in Texas, for instance, that the state must notify voters if a ballot has been marked for rejection due to a signature issue and give voters the opportunity to fix the problem.

The judge ordered Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughes to either issue an advisory to local election officials saying that mail-in ballots may not be rejected due to a signature mismatch or an advisory instructing local election officials that they are required to take additional steps, such as notifying voters, before a ballot could be rejected due to a signature discrepancy.

In New Jersey, the state legislature passed a new law for curing rejected ballots in late August, following the state's decision to mail ballots to all registered voters for the first time in the 2020 election.

The new law requires local election officials to notify voters within 72 hours by email, mail or phone of their rejection, and it gives the voter up to five days after the polls close to fix their ballot.

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