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Ballot Signature Verification & Curing

October 31, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Joshua Mueller

Executive Summary

Absentee/mail-in and provisional ballots require voters to provide a signature attesting to their identity and eligibility to vote. States vary widely in their requirements and protocols for verifying that ballot signatures match signatures in a voter’s registration file. Some states require that voters be notified when their ballot fails the signature verification process so that they may remedy (or “cure”) their ballot. Ballot curing protocols vary widely between states and localities. Missouri requires local election authorities to design and execute signature verification protocols, but does not require ballot curing.

 Highlights 

  • In 2016, 1% of all absentee ballots were rejected nationwide. Signature mismatch was the top reason for ballot rejection (27.5% of all rejections), followed by missed deadlines (23%), missing signature (20%), no witness signature (3%), or problems with return materials (2%).
  • Election officials may use manual or automated signature verification processes.
    • Automated verification is associated with higher signature rejection rates.
  • Inexperienced voters, who tend to be younger voters of color, are more likely to have their ballots rejected due to missing signatures on ballots or return envelopes.
  • Eighteen states, including Iowa and Illinois, require election authorities to notify voters if their signature is rejected and provide an opportunity to fix (“cure”) the problem.
    • Missouri does not require ballot curing.
  • Sending follow-up letters increases the rate of successfully cured ballots.

Limitations 

  • Signature verification and curing protocols vary widely between and within states, and these rules are not always well-documented. As a result, it may be difficult for researchers to assess the effects of these rules on ballot rejection and curing rates.
  • When ballot curing is permitted but not required, protocols are left up to local election authorities, who do not always make their procedures and data publicly available. This can make it difficult to assess how voting outcomes are affected in states without notice and curing requirements.
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