Mail-in ballots are pouring in by the millions to election offices across the country, getting stacked and prepared for processing. But before the count comes the signature test.
Election workers eyeball voter signatures on ballots one by one, comparing the loop of an “L” or the squiggle of an “S” against other samples of that person’s writing.
When performed by professionals in criminal cases or legal proceedings, signature verification can take hours. But election employees in many states must do the job in as little as five seconds.
In an election marked by uncertainty amid the pandemic, the signature verification process represents one of the biggest unknowns: whether a system riddled with vulnerabilities will work on such a massive scale.
In 2016, mismatched signatures were the most common reason that mail ballots were rejected, according to federal officials. With record numbers of people voting by mail this cycle, ballots thrown out for signature problems and other issues have the potential to decide races where the margin of victory is slim.