TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As more Floridians who have traditionally voted in person turn to voting by mail during an election season overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, they face a heightened risk that their ballots may be rejected due to a signature “mismatch.”
Such inconsistencies between the signature on a voter's mail-in ballot envelope and their signature kept on file with election officials could become increasingly common as voting by mail increases in popularity.
What is the expected growth of voting by mail?
In 2018, one-third of Florida voters used vote-by-mail. Due to the increased health risks posed by in-person voting amid the pandemic, election officials project that half of the votes in this year's primary and general elections will be cast through the mail.
What happens in the event of a signature mismatch?
If county election supervisors determine that the signature on the back of a ballot doesn't match the signature in the voter's file, the ballot is flagged and sent to the local canvassing board. There, the signature discrepancies are more closely examined.
Some ballots are ultimately accepted; in the cases of those that aren't, voters are contacted in attempts to 'cure' their ballots. If they fail to respond — within 48 hours, if their ballots don't arrive at elections offices until Election Day — their votes won't count.
How common are signature mismatches?
While mismatches have grown in line with the growth in vote-by-mail, they're still associated with a small fraction of total mail-in ballots. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley tells us that of the 70,000 mail-in ballots his office has received in advance of the August 18 primary, just 50 have been flagged for mismatches.
"I don't think that the public needs to worry that we're voiding a whole bunch of ballots," Earley said.
How much effort do supervisors spend on curing mismatch ballots?
Under a state law passed after the 2016 elections, supervisors are required to contact voters whose mail-in ballots have been flagged. Earley's office sends such voters letters notifying them of the status of their ballot and follows up with e-mails and phone calls.
What about impact of mismatches on the 2020 elections?
If the current trend is any indication, mismatches will become more prevalent with the expected uptick in voting by mail.
The wild card, according to many election observers, is whether the outsized number of traditional in-person voters shifting to vote-by-mail for the first time this year will represent a collective learning curve with regard to the signature mismatch issue that won't be overcome, prompting a higher percentage of unresolved mismatches.