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In-Depth: Mail-in ballot signature confusion

Conflicting instructions confuse voters as mail-in deadline looms
2020 California Primary ballots
Posted at 9:08 AM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 12:36:57-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Conflicting instructions on the California mail-in ballot have confused some voters when it comes to signing their envelope.

"I laid it all out, and I looked at it and said, 'This doesn't match,'" says San Diego resident Theresa Lally. "It was red flags all over for me."

The confusion comes from two separate instructions on how to sign your ballot envelope before submitting it. On the envelope itself, it says your "signature must match your voter registration record." But on the Voter Instruction form that comes with the ballot, it says, "Sign your name just like it appears on your driver's license or identification card."

Lally says she can't remember how she signed her voter registration, and she wasn't sure if the instructions meant to include her full name or if she could just use a middle initial.

ABC 10News took her concerns to Michael Vu, the San Diego Registrar of Voters. He says voters shouldn't stress over specifics, because the law allows for a fairly liberal interpretation of a signature.

"You do not have to have an exact match of your signatures," says Vu. "What we're looking for are the unique characteristics of a signature."

Because signatures change over time, Vu says the people who verify each signature look at identifying markers to match the signature on the envelope to the signature on file.

"We look at the way that a person slants their signatures," Vu says. "Or the way that they loop their L's or J's or S's. Or how they may have a tail at the very end of their signature."

He also says just initials can be enough to make a comparison and verify a signature.

If none of that matches, Vu says the ballot goes into a "curing" process. The Registrar will have the voter fill out an affidavit that the office uses to verify the signature.

And if a voter makes a mistake on their signature, Vu says they can contact the Registrar's office for a replacement ballot.

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received within 17 days to count. In-person voting begins October 31 at 235 "Super Polling" locations throughout San Diego County.