U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

NH Absentee 'Signature Mismatch' Law Unconstitutional

New Hampshire has law allowing vote counters to discard absentee ballots if the signature on the ballot doesn't match the signature on the voter's registration card. This law has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court in the state.

Despite the low statistical significance of the law's impact (the law affected approximately 0.5 percent of votes), even a small amount adds up to a few hundred individuals being denied the right to vote. The district court acknowledged that absentee voting isn't as clearly established of a right as voting itself, but it explained that when absentee voting is offered by a state, there must be procedural safeguards.

No Time, No Qualification, No Vote

The case, Saucedo v. Gardner, did not state that verifying voters via a signature is unconstitutional, but rather that the method being used in New Hampshire didn't cut Constitutional muster. First off, the actual vote counters, in addition to not having enough time to properly analyze signature authenticity, were not qualified to do so.

The court then detailed how throughout various counties in the state, various vote counters (moderators) used different methods, some even incorporating personal knowledge of what voters' signatures look like.

One of the bigger issues the court noted was that after a signature was deemed not to match, the voter was not given an opportunity to contest that decision. A handwriting expert testified that a person's signature can vary for countless reasons over a period of time, for health reasons, or even just due to a person's mood. Significantly, the plaintiffs in the case never knew their ballots were not counted until they were contact by the ACLU after an audit.

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