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Veteran advocacy group calls Colorado’s ballot signature requirement ‘election integrity theater’

A veteran advocacy group claims Colorado's requirement for mail-in ballots to be signed results in thousands of legitimate votes not counting.

DENVER (CN) — A veteran advocacy group called Colorado’s signature requirements for mail-in ballots arbitrary and deeply flawed, an "election integrity theater," in a 39-page lawsuit filed on Monday in the District Court for the City and County of Denver.

Colorado voters are required to sign mail-in ballots. Counties use both machines and manual checks comparing ballot signatures with the state database. Voters whose ballots are rejected must submit a form with identification within eight days to cure the ballot.

The complaint filed by the nonprofit Vet Voice Foundation argues that the signature verification process most often throws out legitimate ballots rather than catching fraudsters.

"While ostensibly deployed to verify voter identity, signature matching is election integrity theater: it disenfranchises qualified voters by the tens of thousands, all for the appearance — but not the reality — of election integrity,” the lawsuit claims. “Signature verification offers paltry security benefits at enormous costs to voters in part because signatures can and do vary for many reasons.”

The lawsuit claims election judges do not receive enough training to sort normal signature variations from attempted fraud. Among guidance, state law instructs election judges to flag ballots with differences between the way t’s are crossed, i’s are dotted and j’s are sloped.

In 2018, the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office escalated 69 out of 2.5 million ballots for fraud investigation. In contrast, more than 20,000 ballots were rejected in the 2020 elections due to voters' ballot signatures not matching the signature in the state database. Roughly half were cured in time to be counted in the election.

Ballots cast by military members stationed overseas count as long as they are mailed by Election Day and received within eight days. The state however does not give extensions to cure ballot signature discrepancies.

During the 2020 election, young voters were 14 times more likely to have their ballot rejected than voters over the age of 40. Black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters were twice as likely to have their ballots rejected over white voters. The lawsuit also identifies non-English speakers and people with physical disabilities being disenfranchised by the signature mandate.

Named plaintiff Randy Eichner has degenerative amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that impairs his muscle control leaving him with an inconsistent signature. Eichner’s 2022 ballot signature was flagged and he was unable to cure it by the state deadline.

“Voting is crucial to Mr. Eichner,” the complaint explained. “He is dying from ALS and believes that having his vote counted is the only way he can attempt to leave behind a better world for his daughters.”

26-year-old Amanda Ireton also joined the lawsuit after she failed to receive notice that her ballot was being rejected for a signature discrepancy.

Colorado has been mailing ballots to all voters since 2013.

“The Department of State is currently reviewing the lawsuit and will defend Colorado law requiring mail ballot envelopes to be signed,” a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office said. “Colorado ensures the constitutional right to cast a ballot, including by giving voters eight days after an election to fix any signature discrepancy.”

Last year the Ninth Circuit signed off on Arizona’s practice of tossing unsigned ballots at the end of Election Day.

The plaintiffs are represented by Kevin Hamilton at Perkins Coie, which has offices in Seattle and Denver. They asked the court to declare the signature requirement violates the Colorado Constitution by placing an undue burden on the right to vote and violating the Equal Protection Act, and to enjoin the state from enforcing it.

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