Challenged signatures on return vote by mail envelopes

How vote by mail ballot return envelopes are verified

Mr. Curiel, reporter for Napa Patch, thank you for contacting me.  Per your phone message which I just received, you have information from the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters that there may be an issue with the signature on vote by mail ballots returned by voters who registered on the new Secretary of State online voter registration system which was implemented in early September 2012.   The issue you relayed is that the signature on the vote by mail ballot return envelope is not matching the signature pulled from DMV records through the online voter registration system and transferred to the individual counties.  

You asked if this was an issue in Napa County and whether I thought this might have statewide implications. 

To answer your excellent questions let me briefly describe our process for handling challenged signatures.  As you are aware every return vote by mail envelope is compared to the signature captured from the paper voter registration affidavit or the online registration transmission.   In our county human eyes make that determination.  In some counties optical character reading devices make the initial comparison. 

If a signature is challenged by the first set of eyes because they do not believe the signatures match, those ballots are held as challenged.  At that point another staff member who has been reviewing challenged signatures for several elections takes a fresh look at the signature.  If that staff member still believes the signature needs further review, then I personally review each challenged signature.  If I cannot find enough evidence to remove the challenge, that ballot remains challenged and uncounted.  After the election we send a letter to each voter whose signature led to an invalid ballot giving them the opportunity to reregister with their current signature so that the challenge will not happen in the next election. 

Our election management system does show which voters registered on the new online voter registration system.   Thus I have asked our experienced staff person to check whether there is any pattern of problems with signatures received from DMV on the new system.  I have reviewed some challenged signatures already.  Of the five ballots that I have left challenged, none of those were from the online registration system, i.e. the signatures in our system were from scanned, paper registration affidavits. 

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Louisa Hufstader November 07, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Thanks, John, for your response. It sounds like the Sonoma County problem was not a widespread one. We had no reader complaints about problems at the polls and an unofficial survey on Facebook indicates things went smoothly: http://napavalley.patch.com/articles/napa-voters-report-smooth-sailing-at-polls One thing we did hear about was some voters who were disgruntled that their polling places had been closed. When you have some time, it would be great to hear more about why there are fewer polling places than in 2006. Congratulations on another election and thank you again for your response to our question on a very busy day.
Belle (Orchid Lady) November 07, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I have a question. The DMV uses the electronic devices now to collect signatures. My handwritten (on paper) signature never matches what it looks like on those electric things. Is that the signature that is used, or is it the hand written one on their drivers license application?
Dennis Makemson November 08, 2012 at 05:48 PM
If the voter who's signature is challenged verifies that it is their ballot, why is that vote counted. Many peoples signature changes over time and unless you are a handwriting expert and can tell the difference positively, I would think that a challenged signature that is verified by the voter in question that the vote would be valid. Reminds me of hanging chad in FL.
Cathy Gumina Odom November 10, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Thanks Louisa! If you can also please follow up with John Tuteur about polling location changes and closures. I live on Vine Hill. My husband went to vote at the church on Linda Vista that morning but saw no activity. He called me at home. I checked the white voter pamphlet. Our voting place had changed! I don't recall getting a letter notification? Anyways, I told him the new location was on Trower at the Baptist church there. I went about 4:30 to vote. There were two precincts on one small hall. I had difficulty getting down the line in my cane. It was written as handicapped accessible, but not much room for me to walk by people at the table asking questions and me and my cane. When I left, I overheard a man calling his wife to tell her that their polling place had changed. They no longer HAD a polling place! They had to see if they could go to the County building and vote there. I'm concerned that he and his wife were kicked out of their voting place to allow me there and others. That's not fair. I'd have appreciated some notice, like in the paper, on the patch, on Facebook, a written letter. Whatever you did, it was not enough. I'm concerned that people did not all get the opportunity to vote. I realize an employer needs to give time off work to vote. But unless you're in a protected union, you may not really get the opportunity. With this bad economy, it's competitive for jobs, projects and tasks within that workday. Maybe you can't leave until 6 and commute an hour.
Cathy Gumina Odom November 10, 2012 at 01:26 PM
True Denise. I used to sign my name as "Cathy Gumina Odom" like on my drivers license, when I first got married 19 years ago. Now I sign it as just "C. Odom" so it's quicker! Which one will John Tuteur accept? There's an article in the NY Times today about Arizona not counting over half a million ballots because they are provisional. That state requires ID to vote. That's almost 20% of the population!


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