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How Does An Ohio Board Of Elections Verify The Signature On A Ballot?

Throughout October, ideastream is answering your questions about the election, voting and more. We talked with Faith Lyon, director of the Portage County Board of Elections, and got answers to your many ballot signature validation questions.

“We’re looking for similarities and closeness,” she told ideastream. “We understand certain conditions cause individual signatures to maybe vary daily. So we’re really looking for that consistency of what is close to your normal signature.”

For those voting in person, Lyon said the identification you show to the poll worker will verify who you are. As for writing your name on the signature pad, “that helps us to keep our records updated with the voter so that we can continue to update and make sure we have the most recent signature on file for comparison,” she said.

In ideastream’s Public Square Facebook Group, Thomas asked how a signature is validated.

“When ballots come back to our office, we actually have a bipartisan team – a Democrat and a Republican – that both look at that ballot and that signature,” Lyon explained. “And if they’re still not certain or just feel, ‘I don’t know 100 percent if that signature matches this voter,’ then that ballot’s brought to the director and deputy director for our review. And then it’s determined whether we can accept it or not.”

What’s My Name?

A Jane Doe told ideastream she’s unsure how she signed her name on her absentee ballot request. “Jane Doe, Jane M. Doe, Jane Mary Doe or JM Doe. If there’s a mismatch when I drop off my ballot early, will my ballot be rejected?” she asked, “If rejected, will I be notified?”

“When it comes to a middle name or a middle initial, that is not our focus,” Lyon said. “As long as we have Jane Doe, that’s what we really care about. The ‘Mary’ or the middle initial, if you happen to have signed it with that on your application but forgot it on your ballot, we do not care that that is missing. What we really want to see is your first name and your last name.”

Lyon said boards of elections recognize voters may use multiple versions of their name.

“Some are hyphenated. Some are just two last names. Some people have multiple first names, multiple middle names and they sign different records in different ways,” she said.

So if, for peace of mind, someone wants to verify which version of a signature or name is on file, as Noel and Judy asked, Lyon recommended calling the board of elections where they’re registered and “just explain their situation of, ‘This is my name. I just can’t remember how I sign or how I registered with your office. Can you confirm that for me?’ And we can confirm that over the phone.”

Can I Get A Witness?

For one woman, whose husband was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, “We are worried that his current signature may vary from that on record. How can we be sure that his ballot is counted?”

According to Lyon, Ohio revised code makes allowances for witnesses.

“What you can always do especially when somebody does have an illness or maybe even an injury to their arm that prevents their signature from looking close to what it has been in the past, have that person sign what their signature is currently and you can always put next to it the phrase, ‘witnessed by’ and a family member can sign by it to show that they are verifying that it is the person who is indeed signing,” she said.

There isn’t a specific line for a witness signature, but Lyon said a witness can sign in the same box next to the voter’s signature.

“Because there are some individuals due to a disability, they might only be able to mark an X,” she said, “and by that X you would just write ‘witnessed by’ and your name of the individual who is witnessing that signature.”

Ben in Old Brooklyn said he requested an absentee ballot, “but my signature has changed and become simplified. I already had a letter sent to me requesting a verification of my signature.”

That verification request was likely a form 11S. Lyon said Ohio law requires boards of elections to notify a voter when there’s a discrepancy, such as a mismatched signature or any information missing on their identification envelope such as a missing Social Security number or date of birth.

“So there’s always a second chance but you have to participate in that second chance. So if you do get a mailing from the board of elections office, don’t wait. Open it up,” Lyon said, and fill out the requested information and return it before the deadline listed on the form.

And when you fill out and sign your vote-by-mail ballot, Lyon cautioned, be sure to use a blue or black ballpoint pen.

“Never use any type of a felt or a gel pen because those will bleed on your ballot and could make a mark that is not intentional,” she said.

In the end, the Portage County Board of Elections isn’t looking for the perfect match, Lyon said, and they’re no handwriting experts.

“We just want the match to where we are comfortable to say that that is John Doe. That is John Doe’s ballot. That’s John Doe’s information and that’s John Doe’s signature,” she said. “We are confident that John Doe filled out that ballot and returned it to us.”

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