When Santa Clara County resident Scott Brown mailed in his ballot Oct. 8, he said the Registrar of Voters notified him the next day that it had been received.
But two days later, he was told there was a problem.
“They looked it up and said, ‘Yeah, your signature doesn’t match,’” Brown said. “I’ve done absentee ballots for a long, long time. Who knows what your signature looks like?”
More than 100,000 ballots were rejected during the March presidential primaries in California, most of them because they were not received by elections officials within three days of Election Day.
About 28,000 ballots were discarded because of lack of signature, or the signature did not match the one elections officials had on file.
Evelyn Mendez, public and legislative affairs manager for Santa Clara County’s Registrar of Voters, said late postmark dates, lack of signature or unverifiable signatures are the top three reasons mail-in ballots get rejected.
But with the exception of ballots postmarked after Nov. 3, errors on a ballot can identified and cured within days.
“We send a letter (at least) three different times trying to cure that signature,” she said. “So we’re giving voters every opportunity we can to fix it.”
If a ballot comes back with no signature, the registrar notifies the voter and provides a form to send back to verify the signature.
Brown said the Registrar of Voters most likely rejected his ballot due to inconsistent signatures from past absentee ballots because his signature was not always consistent.
Voters should use the same signature on their voter registration card or driver’s license when filling out an early ballot to ensure quick verification, Mendez said. Either signature works.
“People have access to their license, so they can look at their driver’s license and write it the same way. That works out for our signature verification team because we do have more than one signature on file,” she said.
Brown said he was glad he got the chance to vote early in case problems arose.
“Grateful to (the registrar) for the alert, which is especially valuable in this time of heightened absentee activity,” he said.
While only 7 million Californians voted absentee in March, every eligible voter received a mail-in ballot for the November election. Many contested races in the state — and here at home — are called by a slim margin of votes, thus the rejection of ballots has the potential to shape the outcome.
Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Shannon Bushey said this year the elections office will accept ballots 17 days after Election Day as long as the ballot is postmarked on or before Nov. 3.
“In prior elections up until now, it was postmarked ‘plus three.’ If you got your ballot postmarked and it was received by our office within three days, we’ll still count it,” she said. “They’ve changed the law for this election, which will really benefit the voter to postmark by 17 (days).”
Elections officials will use those 17 days to process ballots and clear errors, such as signature verification, said Bushey.
“Even if they drop it off on Election Day, because we’re probably going to get over 100,000 ballots on one day and we will process those, we don’t have to send you that cure letter by Election Day,” Bushey said.
Brown said he was told his ballot would go through a second, more manual round of comparison with his other signatures on file. He also was given the option to fix his ballot in person, or even vote in person.
“But that doesn’t seem like a good solution because of COVID,” Brown said. “You know you don’t really want to go stand in line.”
County officials this week pledged the election will be safe, secure and free from intimidation.
Morgan Hill resident Melisa Yuriar was glad to hear about the 17-day period to fix ballots because her ballots were discarded in the last two elections because they were not received on time.
“I appreciate them making every effort to get everyone’s ballot in,” she said. “Allowing us to correct any ballot errors and send it back within the 17-day period is exemplary.”
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.