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South Carolina Counties Told Not to Reject Absentee Ballots Over Mismatched Signatures

October 28, 2020 by Dan McCue
An Absentee Ballot. (Photo by Dan McCue)

A federal judge has prohibited the rejection of absentee ballots in South Carolina on the basis of a perceived mismatch of the voter’s signature and ordered a review of any ballots already set aside due to alleged signature discrepancies.

In a ruling handed down Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said before county election boards can employ signature-matching as a way to determine the validity of a ballot, they must first seek and receive permission from the court.

In addition, Gergel said, county officials must give voters an opportunity to correct any perceived issues with their signatures before discounting their votes.

It has been reported that at least 10 Palmetto State counties had employed the practice of matching signatures as a method for rejecting otherwise legitimate ballots.

On Monday, the South Carolina Election Commission ordered all counties to immediately stop using the signature matching procedures.

“If any county board of voter registration and elections is employing or plans to employ a signature matching procedure, it must stop doing so immediately,” wrote Marci Andino, executive director of the commission, in a directive sent to all counties.

“Further, any absentee ballot that, as a result of a signature matching procedure, has been rejected, disqualified or otherwise set aside so that it will not be counted should immediately be included with those absentee ballots that will be counted, assuming that absentee ballot otherwise complies with [the South Carolina election law],” she added.

Under South Carolina law, poll workers are supposed to compare voters’ signatures on the poll list to the signature on their voter identification card. However, nothing in the state law directs elections officials to use a similar comparison upon receipt of an absentee ballot.

Judge Gergel became involved in the matter after the League of Women Voters of South Carolina alleged that Greenville County, in the Upstate, was paying individuals to match signatures and that Richland County, home to the state Capitol, was considering hiring a vendor to perform computerized signature matching.

In a written statement, Christe McCoy-Lawrence, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, said Gergel’s decision “is a significant win for voter confidence in a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has upended our elections with rule changes, delays, and massive surges in mail voting.

“This ruling erases the uncertainty voters might feel about whether their absentee ballot signature may not exactly match a previous one on record,” she said.

According to the state Elections Commission, more than one million South Carolinians have already cast their ballots in the 2020 General Election, doubling the record for absentee voting set in the 2016 General Election.

Based on current trends, 1.3 million voters could vote before election day, which could be approximately half of the total turnout in the election, the commission said.

The highest turnout in a presidential election in the past 25 years was 76% in 2008. If the 2020 General Election matches that turnout, approximately 2.7 million of the 3.5 million registered voters in South Carolina will vote.

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