Murfreesboro FAQ: How does the Rutherford Election Commission verify signatures on ballots?

Oct 20, 2020 at 09:47 am by Michelle Willard

Rutherford County Election Commission

Murfreesboro Voice Reader Susan Allen wanted to know how signatures are verified for mail-in, absentee ballots.

The signatures on all mail-in ballots (and all ballots in general) must be verified to reduce the chance of voter fraud.

"I first registered in the early '80s and would guess my signature has changed in the last 30-plus years. It is so common for seniors' signatures to change significantly as they age," she said. "This is the first time I have ever voted absentee, so this is a question that has been on my mind."

RELATED: Where and when you can vote early for the November election

This brought up a few questions about how the Rutherford County Election Commission verifies signatures on ballots. Rutherford County Elections Administrator Alan Farley answered the following questions about the process.

Do you verify signatures when a voter submits a request for an absentee ballot or just when the ballots are being counted?

Farley: Signatures are verified when the absentee ballot request is made and when the ballot is submitted. They are compared to your voter registration and any other official documents that we have on file such as other absentee request forms, address change or name change forms.

Ballot integrity is our only focus as the outcomes should be determined by the citizens within each jurisdiction.

Are they compared to the voter’s signature on their original registration form or from their signature on their most recent sign in when voting last in person?

Farley: No signature is identical but the hand stroke of an individual is dominant and consistent and doesn’t change with age or illness.

Each signature that is considered to be rejected must be confirmed by two people before its brought to me to confirm or deny rejection. Making The rejected signature confirmed by three people. The news media doesn’t tell viewers this part of the process. 

Who verifies the signatures and what does their training consists of that qualifies them to make these assessments?

Farley: Each of my staff members who work with processing absentee ballots are required to go through signature verification training. The training was established by the state of Oregon, which is a by mail state. It covers handwriting techniques and methods to look for when examining a signature.

If I can be of any other assistance to you, please do not refrain from asking.

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So I sez to myself, what is this Oregon process that our county election workers are using to verify signatures? Here ya go. Oregon Secretary of State Vote by Mail Procedures Manual Rev. March 2020 P. 35 Reception, Signature Verification and Sorting (cont.) Evaluating Signatures The following characteristics and procedures shall be utilized by a county or state elections official to evaluate signatures to determine whether the signature matches or does not match the signatures contained in the state voter registration record. 1. Agreement in:  Style and general appearance, including:  Basic construction  Skill  Alignment  Fluency  General uniformity and consistency between signatures  Proportions of individual letters  Height to width  Heights of the upper to lower case letters 2. Irregular spacing, slants, or sizes of letters are duplicated in both signatures. 3. General traits and agreement of the most distinctive, unusual traits of the signatures. 4. Only a signature possessing obvious and predominantly matching characteristics with the signatures in the voter registration record may be reviewed and determined to be a match by a single county elections official. 5. A signature possessing one or more distinctive dissimilarities from the signatures in the voter registration record shall be reviewed by at least two different county elections officials before it is accepted as a matching signature or rejected as a non-matching signature. 6. A single distinctive trait is insufficient to conclude that the signatures are by the same writer. There must be a combination or cluster of shared characteristics. Likewise, there must be a combination or cluster of dissimilarities to conclude that the signatures may be by different writers. 7. When evaluating signatures elections officials may review broad characteristics used to evaluate an entire signature as a unit or they may narrow the scope of their examination to that of specific letters within a signature. See Appendix 13, Evaluating Signatures, for a list of characteristics for consideration when evaluating an entire signature as a unit and a list of characteristics for consideration when narrowing the scope of the examination to specific letters or combinations of letters.
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