Right-wing 'witchcraft' could result in thousands of legitimate ballots being thrown out: voting expert

Right-wing 'witchcraft' could result in thousands of legitimate ballots being thrown out: voting expert

Republicans, frustrated over all the polls that show former Vice President Joe Biden ahead of President Trump in the 2020 election, have been engaging in a variety of voter suppression tactics — from reducing the number of polling places in heavily Democratic areas to undermining the U.S. Postal Service at a time when millions of Americans are voting by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. And even if one votes, Republicans can find underhanded ways to throw out their votes. One of them is signature matching — which, journalist David A. Graham warns in an article for The Atlantic this week, could result in thousands of perfectly legitimate ballots being thrown out.

Graham cites Ohio resident George Mangeni, an immigrant from Kenya, as a glaring example of someone whose ballot was rejected earlier this year because his "signature on the ballot didn't match the one he used when he registered to vote." And Mangeni is now a plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit.

Graham explains, "Ohio, like 30 other states, uses signature matching as a fraud-prevention measure. Mangeni sometimes uses different signatures, and he didn't recall which one he used to register. Under Ohio law, election officials are supposed to mail a notice to any voter whose ballot is rejected, giving them a chance to correct an error. But Mangeni said he never received a notification."

Mangeni told The Atlantic that in light of his ballot being wrongly rejected earlier this year, he plans to vote in person in November's election.

According to Graham, a political scientist at Carroll College who is helping the ACLU in its lawsuit against Ohio's matching signatures law found that 97% of ballots that are rejected because of signatures are, in fact, valid. And a voting expert Graham interviewed described the process of comparing signatures as "witchcraft."

"Even in normal election cycles, signature-matching requirements result in many ballots being rejected," Graham observes. "Hundreds of thousands of such ballots were disqualified this way in 2016 — almost all, presumably, cast by voters who had done everything right. Rejections disproportionately hit certain demographic groups — including elderly voters, young voters and voters of color — that are expected to heavily favor (former) Vice President Joe Biden this fall."

In 2018 in Gwinnett County, Georgia, according to Graham, officials "rejected more than 7% of mail-in ballots — a staggering figure compared with the national total of 1.4% in 2018. But only about 3% of ballots from White voters were rejected, compared with 5.1% from Hispanic voters, 10.3% from Black voters, and 13.9% from Asian-American voters. Gwinnett accounted for nearly 40% of all the ballots rejected in Georgia in 2018." Gwinnett County, which is part of the Atlanta suburbs, is roughly 30% African-American.

Hannah Fried, national campaign director of the group All Voting Is Local, told The Atlantic, "Everybody's vote should count. If you're an eligible voter and you voted, your ballot should not be rejected for a highly technical reason out of your control — because the signature was sloppy, or you cannot write in the same way you used to be able to write. There's something fundamentally unfair about it."

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is also highly critical of signature matching.

Clarke told The Atlantic, "At the end of the day, officials are not trained in how to conduct signature-match verification. They use procedures that would not stand up in a court of law."

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