ATLANTA – Prior to Georgia’s runoff elections, two Republican lawmakers attempted to expose a loophole in the security of postal ballot papers by changing the way they put their signatures on ballot request forms.

Despite the changed signatures, they received postal ballot papers.

They say their experiment revealed a bug in verifying the postal vote: if the poll workers had checked the voters’ signatures thoroughly, their nominations would have been rejected.

While there is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud, Republican lawmakers are planning to introduce laws to prevent signatures from checking postal ballot papers. This is an unreliable way of ensuring that the ballots go to the voters who requested them. You want to replace signatures with a photo ID or an identification number.

Republicans oppose signature matching because they say it doesn’t prevent election rigging. Democrats have also objected to signature verification in the past when ballots were mistakenly rejected. However, they oppose the proposed photo ID requirements, such as a photocopy of a driver’s license, which could make it difficult to vote.

Republican Wes Cantrell said he used different signatures on both his postal ballot request and when he returned his postal ballot to prove that the signature verification wasn’t working.

“The primary way we verify voter identity is just being silly,” Cantrell said. “I’m claiming a mistake, not a fraud. It is impractical and we have to find a better way. “

The signature verification process also failed a similar test by Senator Greg Dolezal, whose Republican was much clearer on his ballot application form than the scrawled signature on his driver’s license.

“There is no signature match in any way,” said Dolezal. “Regardless of what you think happened in the last election, we can acknowledge that this is not the best way to go.”

Election officials said they approved Dolezal’s ballot after finding similarities between several files and the signature of the last letter of his last name on his leave of absence request.

A broader review of the postal vote revealed no ineligible voters. GBI agents and electoral investigators checked 15,000 postal voting envelopes in Cobb County last month without uncovering a single case of fraud. The test resulted in 10 postal ballot papers in which the signatures of the voters did not match or the signatures were missing. However, these voters later confirmed that they had submitted these ballots.

Democrats stand ready to crack down on postal voting restrictions, in particular a suggestion by Republican Governor Brian Kemp that voters must return a copy of their ID with their postal vote. Many voters, especially the poor or the elderly, do not have easy access to a copier.

“This is simply about Republicans finding ways to cast votes,” said Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Decatur Democrat and member of the committee that reviews electoral law. “We never saw so much focus on postal voting until Democrats, especially black and brown voters, started using postal ballots in large numbers. It’s one of the safer processes we have. “

Georgia has allowed any registered voter to vote by post for any reason under a law passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2005. However, until last year, postal voting was only used by about 5% of voters in general elections.

That all changed during the coronavirus pandemic, when many voters decided to cast their ballots remotely rather than risk contact with people at polling stations. A record 1.3 million people absent from the general election.

The rejection rates for absentee voting due to mismatched or missing signatures were low both in previous years and in 2020, typically between 0.1% and 0.3%.

Almost every state uses some form of signature verification for postal voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

States like South Dakota and Wisconsin also require voters to submit photo identification with their postal ballot papers. In Ohio, voters must show their signatures along with a driver’s license number, Social Security number, or photo ID when requesting a postal vote.

Georgia signature verification could be improved without discarding it, said Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, an organization that promotes mail-in voting. For example, she suggested implementing signature verification software, bipartisan signature verification bodies, and greater process transparency.

“Signature Match is widely used and successfully used in many countries. This is currently the best method available to validate a postal ballot, ”said McReynolds. “My concern with Georgia going down the photo ID route is that the voter must have or have access to a photocopier at home, which is an accessibility problem.”

While Kemp has requested photo identification, the General Assembly will also consider other options that are more likely to withstand potential legal challenges.

“Other states use a driver’s license, state ID or social security number as a specific binary identifier, as opposed to a signature match, which can be considered subjective and undermines people’s trust in the system to some extent,” said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer Officer of the Secretary of State.

While postal voting fraud is rare, more reliable signature verification methods would help restore voters’ shaken confidence in elections, Dolezal said.

“We have to do what we can to restore confidence,” he said. “The question is how do you build a structure that really eliminates as much human error as possible.”

© 2021 The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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