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Analysis

Arizona Bill Would Refer Mismatched Mail Ballot Signatures to Prosecutors

Turning simple signature issues into a potential criminal matter would discourage people from voting.

  • Marian K. Schneider
May 28, 2021

The Arizona Legis­lature is continu­ing its attack on voting by mail. In a party line vote, the state house advanced a bill that would turn allegedly mismatched signa­tures on mail ballots into poten­tial crim­inal cases. Vari­ation in signa­tures — a common and gener­ally harm­less occur­rence — should not subject voters to the threat of prosec­u­tion.

The legis­la­tion is part of a wave of bills from GOP state lawmakers nation­wide to make it harder for Amer­ic­ans to vote, all fueled by the Big Lie that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen. It comes just weeks after Arizona enacted a law that will remove large numbers of voters from a popu­lar list that allows them to auto­mat­ic­ally receive vote-by-mail ballots.

S.B. 1241 imposes a new require­ment on county record­ers to refer voters for “possible invest­ig­a­tion” to prosec­utors if they fail to remedy — or “cure” — a mismatched signa­ture. Currently, county record­ers verify mail ballots by compar­ing the signa­ture on the mail ballot envel­ope with the voter’s signa­ture in the county records. Should the county recorder determ­ine that the mail ballot signa­ture is incon­sist­ent with previ­ous signa­tures, the office must contact the voter, advise them of the perceived incon­sist­ency, and inform the voter of the abil­ity to remedy or cure the signa­ture.

The dead­line for a voter to contact the county and remedy the mismatched signa­ture is three to five days after an elec­tion, depend­ing on the elec­tion. If the stat­utory dead­line expires and the voter has not cured the perceived discrep­ancy, under exist­ing law, the vote is not coun­ted and that’s where it should end. Instead, S.B. 1241 would compel the county to send a copy of the mail ballot affi­davit and other signa­ture records to the county attor­ney or attor­ney general for “possible invest­ig­a­tion.”  In other words, accord­ing to Repub­lic­ans in the Arizona Legis­lature, a voter who fails to cure a signa­ture is suspec­ted of crim­inal conduct.

There simply is no basis to assume that a voter who cannot address an alleged signa­ture discrep­ancy in a mail ballot should be suspec­ted of a crime. First, a voter may be unable to correct or confirm the signa­ture discrep­ancy quickly for dozens of reas­ons, not the least of which is being away from home — that’s why many people vote by mail in the first place.

Second, signa­tures vary over time for most people but espe­cially for certain groups. Elderly voters, voters with disab­il­it­ies or health condi­tions, and voters who use a language other than English have their signa­tures rejec­ted at dispro­por­tion­ately higher rates than other voters. These voters will be at greater risk for a crim­inal invest­ig­a­tion if this bill passes.

Moreover, signa­ture veri­fic­a­tion of mail ballots can result in arbit­rary or erro­neous conclu­sions that a person’s signa­ture is incon­sist­ent with a previ­ous one. And this risk is real in Arizona because the legis­lature has not codi­fied any stand­ards to guide offi­cials as they exam­ine ballot signa­tures.

Before it can become law, S.B. 1241 must pass another floor vote in the House and then will return to the Senate for concur­rence in the amend­ments. If the Senate passes the bill, it will be sent to the governor for signa­ture.

This bill takes the Repub­lican obses­sion with imagined elec­tion fraud to the next level, and the result­ing fear of prosec­u­tion will deter people from exer­cising their right to vote. Enough is enough. The Arizona Legis­lature must do the right thing and vote against this uncon­scion­able bill.