Oct 23, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules mail-in ballots can't be rejected for mismatched signatures

Picture of a woman outside dropping off  her ballot in a green official ballot box in Philadelphia

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that election officials cannot reject a mailed-in ballot because a voter’s signature may not resemble the one on their registration form.

Why it matters: The decision comes as a win for voting rights advocates and Democrats who say the signature disqualification rule can disenfranchise voters. In 2016, it was the top reason that ballots were rejected, with 28% of disqualified ballots flagged for non-matching signatures, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

  • Friday's decision further indicated that mail ballots will not be disqualified because of “third-party challenges based on signature analysis and comparisons,” wiping out a method for politically motivated observers to dispute the efficacy of a vote based on a perceived signature mismatch.

The big picture: President Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee had challenged an earlier decision by Pennsylvania election officials to defend signature-matching, claiming the practice helped defend against fraud.

  • The state has little experience with voting by mail, but like many others is expected to see a wave of ballots submitted by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic. So far nearly 1.5 million voters across Pennsylvania have sent in ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
  • Before this year absentee ballots were the only type of mail-in ballots permitted in the state, and were specifically for those who couldn't get to the polls on Election Day "due to travel or poor health," as per The Morning Call. This year marks the first time Pennsylvania voters are not required to have a specific excuse to vote by mail.

What they're saying: The court sided with the head of the Pennsylvania Department of State, Kathy Boockvar, who argued in her court filing that signature rejections pose “a grave risk of disenfranchisement on an arbitrary and wholly subjective basis," US News reports.

The bottom line: A smart analysis from FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich details how the entire election could hinge on Pennsylvania:

  • "Pennsylvania is so important that our model gives Trump an 84 percent chance of winning the presidency if he carries the state — and it gives Biden a 96 percent chance of winning if Pennsylvania goes blue."

Go deeper: Top 5 mail voting mistakes (and how to avoid them)

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