California Trashes Thousands of Mail-In Ballots, ACLU Says

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SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Tens of thousands of California absentee ballots are tossed in the trash in every election on the basis of handwriting comparisons made by officials who are not trained in the art, a Sonoma County man and the ACLU claim in state court.

Peter La Follette claims in San Francisco Superior Court that he learned this year that his November 2016 ballot had not been counted, by checking the California Secretary of State’s website.

La Follette contacted his county registrar of voters, who responded that his ballot was no good because the signature on his vote-by-mail ballot envelope was “‘significantly different from what we have on file,’” according to his Nov. 13 lawsuit.

La Follette and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California say elections officials compare the handwriting on the vote-by-mail ballots, or absentee ballots, with a signature on file, but receive no training in handwriting identification and comparison.

Worse, state law does not require that voters receive notification when their ballots are rejected, so unless voters follow up themselves, they would never know.

“If  Mr. La Follette had been notified before the 2016 election results were certified that his vote was rejected and given an opportunity to cure the signature mismatch — by mail or by going to an elections office in person — he would have done so,” the lawsuit states.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

According to state data, nearly 58 percent of the 14 million Californians who voted in the November 2016 general election mailed in their ballots.

La Follette and the ACLU cite studies of the 2016 general election to estimate that 35,000 to 45,000 California ballots were rejected “due to perceived signature mismatch.”

They cite a 2001 study that laypersons “are much more likely to wrongly believe that a genuine signature does not match than they are to wrongly believe that a forged signature is in fact genuine.”

They say Latino and Asian-American voters are disproportionately affected.

Voters who fail to sign their ballots are better off because they are given notice and eight days to sign an affidavit to make their ballots count, they say.

Secretary of State Padilla and Sonoma County Registrar of Voters William Rousseau are the defendants.

“This wholesale disenfranchisement of California voters without providing voters notice and an opportunity to show that their ballots are proper violates the guarantees of due process, equal protection, and the California constitutional right to have a properly cast vote counted,” the complaint states.

La Follette and the ACLU ask the court to strike down the section in California’s Election Code that requires officials to reject such ballots, to order officials to notify voters when their ballots have apparently mismatched signatures, and give them an opportunity to prove their ballot is legitimate.

Their lead attorney is William Donovan Jr. with Cooley LLP in Santa Monica.

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