Ohio Voting Rights Groups Sue Frank LaRose Over Flawed Signature Matching Requirements on Absentee Ballot

As November's General Election approaches and an unprecedented number of Americans — and Ohioans — seem poised to vote by mail in light of the pandemic, multiple concerns have cropped up about how the United States Post Office will handle the glut of time-sensitive material, and how Ohio will manage its mail-in ballots as well.

Another issue has been raised by a series of voters' and civil rights groups, challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's current system that requires the signatures on absentee ballots match those on absentee ballot applications.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — representing the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio and several Ohio voters — the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Ohio and Covington & Burlington LLP have filed a preliminary injunction against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to make sure that voters have "the opportunity, and sufficient time, to correct their mismatched signatures when boards of elections mistakenly reject their ballots and ballot applications on the basis of signature mismatches," says a release from the Lawyers' Committee.

“With just over two months until Election Day, voters need a fair absentee ballot process that they can rely on to ensure their ballots are counted. Ohio's unscientific signature matching processes create unfair electoral barriers, especially for senior citizens, youth, and voters with disabilities. Ohio needs to institute a transparent notice and cure process so voters can be assured their votes will count,” says Jen Miller, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, argues:

About 85% of Ohioans who voted in the 2020 Primary Election did so by mail-in absentee ballot, and with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, election officials are expecting an avalanche of mail-in absentee ballots in November. As a result, the number of applications and ballots rejected because of a purported signature mismatch will likely climb to tens of thousands in the November General Election.

Signature matching, as practiced in Ohio, is notoriously inaccurate. Research demonstrates that election officials are prone to deciding erroneously that authentic voter signatures do not match file signatures. Certain classes of voters — non-English speakers, the disabled, and older voters among them — are most likely to produce inconsistent-appearing signatures and are therefore especially susceptible to being disenfranchised. Although fraud prevention is often touted as a reason for signature matching, the risk of erroneous rejection of a legitimate ballot is staggeringly greater than that of the erroneous acceptance of a fraudulent one. At least one expert estimates that there is a 97% probability that a ballot that has been rejected because of a purported signature mismatch has been wrongly rejected. 
Basically, the plaintiffs want election officials to allow voters enough time to fix their mismatched signature "before the date by which the Ohio boards of elections must complete the canvass of returns," and contact voters by both telephone and email "in sufficient time to correct rejected absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications."

“Signature matching in Ohio is notoriously inaccurate. All voter suppression tactics — no matter the shape or size — disproportionately affect historically disenfranchised voters of color and we cannot allow this to happen. The right to vote is sacred and should be treated as such,” added Andre Washington, president of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute.
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