Elections board executive director eliminates signature matching for absentee ballots

Published September 10, 2020

By Andy Jackson

I wrote last week about how NC State Board of Elections (SBE) Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell had ordered county election officials to accept absentee ballots that they know were transmitted illegally.

In that same memo, Brinson Bell struck another blow against absentee ballot security when she told county election officials to not verify that the signature on the absentee ballot envelope was that of the voter:

1.No Signature Verification

County boards shall accept the voter’s signature on the container-return envelope if it appears to be made by the voter, meaning the signature on the envelope appears to be the name of the voter and not some other person. Absent clear evidence to the contrary, the county board shall presume that the voter’s signature is that of the voter, even if the signature is illegible. A voter may sign their signature or make their mark.

The law does not require that the voter’s signature on the envelope be compared with the voter’s signature in their registration record. Verification of the voter’s identity is completed through the witness requirement. See also Numbered Memo 2020-15, which explains that signature comparison is not permissible for absentee request forms. 

Brinson Bell offers no example of what might constitute “clear evidence” that a signature is not that of the voter and she does not want election officials to use is the one thing they have on hand that to confirm that the signature on the ballot envelope is that of the voter: the signature on the registration record.

Brinson Bell justifies stripping away signature verification by stating that “voter’s identity is completed through the witness requirement.” While the witness requirement is an important tool in helping to prevent or investigate absentee ballot fraud, recent legislation reducing the witness requirement to one for the 2020 general election means that a single political operative who gains possession of a ballot is free to complete the ballot container envelope, complete the witness section, and forge the voter’s signature. Thanks to Brinson Bell’s order, the forged signature does not even have to be a reasonable approximation of that of the voter.

A more reasonable policy would be for county election officials to verify signatures and contact any affected voters to give them an opportunity to fix that problem. That is what Brinson Bell told county officials to for other problems with the absentee ballot container envelope, and what leftwing groups had sued to require election officials to do. Brinson Bell’s order does not even meet that minimal ballot security standard.

Interestingly, the Washington Post recently ran an editorial saying that President Trump’s claim that Democrats want to eliminate signature verification was a “falsehood.” Lo and behold; here we have a Democratic-appointed elections official eliminating signature verification for absentee ballots.

It is clear is that North Carolina has an SBE executive director who will only protect the security of absentee ballots to the minimum extent required by law. While it is too late for the 2020 election, the SBE executive director’s power to unilaterally ratchet down absentee ballot security for future elections should be limited.