Oct 27, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Judge rules South Carolina can't reject absentee ballots over signature mismatches

Absentee ballot.

Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

A federal judge in South Carolina on Tuesday ruled that the state cannot reject absentee ballots because of signature mismatches, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: District Judge Richard Mark Gergel said the practice places "a significant burden" on voting rights, and that there is no clear standard for matching signatures. The case is among a slew of election-related litigation to have been before the federal courts during the cycle.

  • "Here, absentee ballots, which meet all statutory requirements under South Carolina law, may nonetheless be disqualified on the basis of a subjective judgment that the voter’s signature does not match some sample relied upon by county election officials," Gergel wrote, per WashPost.
  • "Moreover, a number of the counties conducting signature matching procedures have no or ill-defined procedures for providing affected voters timely notice of a signature mismatch determination or a timely procedure for challenging that determination."

The state of play: The ruling prohibits election boards from rejecting ballots for mismatches without giving voters notice and an opportunity to contest it. Gergel ordered the state to reprocess ballots that had already been thrown out because of mismatches.

What they're saying: "This 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," said Christe McCoy-Lawrence, co-president of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina.

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