Friday, September 4, 2020

What You Need to Know About Mail Voting

Make your absentee mail ballot count! Texas and most states can reject your mail-in ballot for poor penmanship. Yes, it happens to far too many times. Here’s how to make your mail-in vote count, starting with your mail ballot application.

Make sure your signature on your mail ballot application and your mail ballot return envelope exactly match, and matches the signature on your original voter registration application. It’s best if you use the same good quality pen to sign both your mail ballot application and your mail ballot return envelope.

In Texas, a panel of election workers called the ballot board checks and approves every signature on the outside of each mail ballot return envelope. The board verifies the return ballot signature matches the “on file” signature for the voter to verify the voter’s identity. By matching the signature on the mail ballot return envelope with the voter’s mail ballot application the board also verifies the mail ballot received is from the voter who did in fact request mail ballot. The board usually distributes the ballot envelope among the members to validate signatures.

If one board member rejects a returned ballot envelope because the signatures don’t match, the entire board made up of Democrats and Republicans inspect and vote on whether to accept or reject that ballot envelope.

Where the handwriting appears to match, even if the signatures aren’t a exact match, under guidelines from the Texas Secretary of State, the ballots should be accepted. However, it’s a subjective call made by people who aren’t handwriting experts.

Those who serve on county ballot boards across Texas make a good faith effort to properly process mail ballots, but mail voters too often complicate their job. Spouses or family members at the same address sometimes get the ballot return envelopes confused and they sign each others’ envelopes. Too often, voters don’t sign the application or ballot return envelope at all. Some use a rubber signature stamp, which is a no-no. Sometimes, handwriting is so sloppy it doesn’t clearly match. On many, the penmanship is so poor it takes extra time for board members to study the signature comparisons to finally verify or reject returned ballot envelopes.

Make sure your vote is counted by taking the time to make sure you properly affix you signature to your mail ballot application and mail ballot return envelope. It will also help the ballot board in each county approve more ballot returns per hour so the ballots can be more quickly counted.

Every state follows a similar process to inspect mail voter signatures.

Update Tuesday, September 8, 2020 @ 5:45 PM — U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled Tuesday that the state’s vote by mail process for validating a voter’s signature on their mail ballot return envelope “plainly violates certain voters’ constitutional rights.” Judge Garcia ruled it is unconstitutional for county ballot boards to reject a ballot based on a “perceived signature mismatch” between the signature on the voter’s mail ballot return envelope and mail ballot application without notifying the voter about the perceived mismatch and giving the voter a “meaningful opportunity” to verify their signature on the mail ballot return envelope is genuine.

Additionally, to “protect voters’ rights” in the upcoming election, Garcia said the Texas secretary of state must either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature comparison process, or notify them that they are required to set up a rejection notification system that would allow voters to challenge a rejection. The county election authority must notify voters be mailed notices of their mail ballot rejection within one day of a mismatch determination by the ballot board. Those who provided phone numbers on their applications must be called at least once within one day of the decision.

The ruling comes more than a year after two voters, George Richardson of Brazos County and Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen, filed suit after their mail-in ballots were rejected by local officials who decided the signatures on the envelopes in which their ballots were returned were not theirs. The voters — joined by groups that represent Texans with disabilities, veterans and young voters — argued the state law that allows local election officials to reject mail-in ballots based on mismatching signatures violates the 14th Amendment.

In his order, Garcia agreed and said the state is creating a “severe” burden for voters whose ballots are rejected because they are given late notice of that rejection and are not offered a “meaningful opportunity” to “cure” their ballots.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials called the ballot board reviews the return ballot envelope to ensure that a voter’s endorsement signature on the ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

But because the state election code does not establish any standards for review, the plaintiffs argued that the law is applied unequally, with each county “necessarily” developing “its own idiosyncratic, arbitrary, and ad hoc procedure to determine that a ballot should be rejected” with no requirement to notify voters about the rejections until 10 days after Election Day.

The ruling comes just as mail-in ballots for the November general election are almost set to go out to voters. Texas is one of just a few states that hasn’t opened up mail-in voting to any voter concerned about getting COVID-19 at a polling place. But local election officials are still expecting a jump in mail-in voters — both among voters who have always been eligible but usually vote in person, and voters citing a disability or illness that could make voting in person a risky endeavor.

We wait to see if Judge Garcia's rule survives appeal. I suspect it won't.

In Texas, voter registrations and signatures for mail ballot envelopes returned to the county clerk or election registrar may be verified by upon receipt by the ballot board. Texas election jurisdictions (counties) with more than 100,000 people can begin tabulating returned mail ballots after the final day of the in-person early voting period. In jurisdictions with fewer than 100,000 people, returned mail ballot counting can not start until the in-person voting polls open on Election Day. So, my Texas friends and campaign managers, make every effort to get those voting by mail to immediately mail in their absentee ballot application, and then mark and return mail their ballot the same day they receive it. If Democrats voting by mail return their mail ballots by the end of early voting, the count of those ballots will be included with the counts of ballots cast in-person during early voting and on Election Day. 

To my friends and campaign managers who live in battleground states other than Texas: Does your state start counting absentee ballots before election day? Or only starting on Election Day? This is a very important point for Democrats state by state to start organizing around. This article it's making the point that if you live in a battleground state where absentee ballots can’t be verified and counted until Election Day, or if the results are not published until all the absentee ballots are counted, then it might be best to ask voters to mask up and vote in person, early if possible.

When Absentee/Mail Ballot Processing and Counting Can Begin State by State - updated 8/25/2020

State by state information on mail-in and early in-person voting, including the first day you can cast your ballot in the 2020 election

Trump Is Heading for a 'Red Mirage' Win on Election Night, Bloomberg-Funded Data Firm Says

PBS News Hour: In battlegrounds, absentee ballot rejections could triple:

Thousands of absentee ballots get rejected in every presidential election. With the coronavirus creating a surge in mail-in balloting and postal delays reported across the country, the number of rejected ballots in November is projected to be significantly higher than previous elections.

If ballots are rejected at the same rate as during this year's primaries, up to three times as many voters in November could be disenfranchised in key battleground states when compared to the last presidential election, according to an Associated Press analysis of rejected ballots. It could be even more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and ballot rejection rates trended higher during this year's primaries.

Ballot rejections occur even under the best of circumstances. They go uncounted because they arrived too late in the mail, voters forgot to sign them or signatures didn't match the one on file at local election offices.

Read the rest of story at PBS News Hour.

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