With the crazy-fast flood of news events, it’s hard to remember an electoral problem that took Florida’s center stage just a mere four months ago: the issue of voters getting disqualified because the signature on their mail-in ballot didn’t match the signature they had on file at the county Supervisor of Elections office.
Former Democratic Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who lost by a whisper in November in his contest against Republican Rick Scott, is now urging the state Legislature to deal with the mismatched signature issue.
He’s pointing to a new appeals court ruling on Feb. 15, which says the state’s practice of only counting vote-by-mail ballots if the signature matches the one on file imposes “a serious burden to vote.”
“The Florida Legislature should quickly fix the voting law to comply with a new court ruling,” Nelson tweeted.
People’s signatures can change for a variety of reasons, including medical conditions and advancing age. There are better ways, Nelson and others argue, to verify vote-by-mail ballots.
Nelson’s race against Scott came down to a statewide hand recount. In the immediate days after the recount began, the Nelson campaign and the Democratic Party of Florida fired off a variety of lawsuits designed to get as many votes counted as possible.
One of those lawsuits dealt with the fact that Florida election officials rejected between 4,000 to 5,000 ballots due to mismatched signatures during the November election. Nelson lost the race to Scott by 10,033 votes.
The appeals court decision affirms an earlier court opinion from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. Eight days after the election, Walker ruled that the signature mismatch issue was an “arbitrary determination.” But he did not agree to the Nelson campaign’s legal plea to count every vote-by-mail rejected for a signature mismatch. Instead, he ruled that elections supervisors had to give voters two days to fix the alleged signature mismatches.
The 11th District Court of Appeals voted 2-1 in support of the Nelson campaign on Friday. In its majority opinion, the justices wrote “with respect to Florida’s execution of the signature-match requirement, Florida has not enacted uniform standards for matching signatures, nor has it created qualifications or training for those who engage in the job. Indeed, election officials in Florida tasked with comparing signatures on ballots to those on file need not undergo formal training in handwriting analysis or receive formal guidelines for how to compare signatures.”
Democrats in the state Legislature have promised to introduce a variety of proposals to address the state’s voting systems when they convene for the regular session in March. Some have argued for an alternative to using signatures to verify voters who vote by mail, perhaps by using Social Security numbers or other ways to validate that the voter is who he or she says they are.