What are the “Exact Match” and “Signature Match” Laws?

Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May denied Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s request to pause an injunction regarding the state’s “signature match” law. Last week, May ordered Kemp’s office not to toss absentee ballots where the signature didn’t exactly match the voter’s registration. Kemp had asked that May stay the order while his office appeals the decision to the the Eleventh Circuit Court.

The “exact match law,” passed in 2013 and updated in 2017, has been getting a lot of terrible press lately. Yet, “exact match” is different than “signature match.” Confused? Let’s walk through it, starting with “signature match,” which was the focus of the injunction last week and the denial of the stay yesterday.

According to WABE, as of October 23rd, when the original injunction was filed, 2,081 absentee ballots statewide had been affected by “signature match.” Because Judge May’s injunction was retroactive, it covers all of those previously-rejected ballots and any additional ballots that would have been rejected because of mismatching signatures.

Georgia’s “signature match” law is fairly straightforward in its wording, with little wiggle room for interpretation. It’s weird, though, because if you read any Georgia ballot, voters are free to sign or mark it. After all, literacy is not a prerequisite to vote. Requiring that would violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet, the “signature match” law states, “If the elector has failed to sign the oath, or if the signature does not appear to be valid, or if the elector has failed to furnish required information or information so furnished does not conform with that on file in the registrar’s or clerk’s office, or if the elector is otherwise found disqualified to vote, the registrar or clerk shall write across the face of the envelope ‘Rejected,’ giving the reason therefor.”

Maybe that third stipulation covers the mark of a voter, but how would someone know one person’s X from another person’s? Similarly, there are other reasons where a person’s signature would change appearance. My grandmother, for example, had the most exquisite handwriting when I was young. As she aged and her arthritis worsened, however, you could barely read her signature. It leaves me to wonder, given that she was still alive at the onset of “signature match,” if her ballots were ever rejected in Richmond County? I would be disappointed to learn that was the case, so perhaps being ignorant to the fact is best. Yet, in comparing her signature in 1985 to her signature in 2010, the naked eye would plausibly believe the same person couldn’t have written both.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that willy-nilly, anyone-can-vote-with-no-ID is a good idea, and absentee ballots, coming in by mail, have less security, even when they are accompanied with a scanned copy of a driver’s license. However, I wonder what kinds of protections are in place for those among us who age, get sick, can’t write, etc.? I don’t want them disenfranchised, so I think that revisiting “signature match” during the next legislative session is a good idea.

Let’s pivot back to “exact match.” This covers the 53,000 pending registrations where folks can still vote, yet have to prove they are themselves. You have to hunt a little bit for that information, because early on, it was believed these folks couldn’t vote. Then, Kemp assured us they could. So, if you’re listed as pending, you can (and should!) vote. Yet, as I was untangling “exact match” truth from fiction, the thing that stopped me in my tracks was this piece posted at AllOnGeorgia, sent to them by VoterGA.org. Until this point, I had – admittedly, embarrassingly – been making a lot of assumptions. You know what they say about assumptions. Nonetheless, I was assuming that Kemp was just enforcing a law as written, and that he was unfairly being targeted as Brian the Boogeyman, Denier of Voters’ Rights to Cast Their Ballots, because it wasn’t his office’s decision. But that piece checked me. I should read the law. All of it.

I did, and you should, too.

Section 8’s language calls for verification, requiring “sufficient evidence” that the voter is the voter. The term “exact match” doesn’t appear. (“Matching” does appear once.) The “exact match” standard that the Secretary of State’s office is using to determine valid ballots is the strategy they have created to implement the “sufficient evidence” required by the law. However, to me, and I’ll bet to many others, “exact match” sounds more restrictive than “sufficient evidence.” So, why adopt something more restrictive than necessary, something that has targeted both less educated and nonwhite voters at demonstrably higher rates? Some folks are going to have less than charitable interpretations of that.

This kind of optics issue is one of the (good!) reasons why Karen Handel resigned as Secretary of State to run for Governor back in 2010. John Oxendine called her a quitter for doing it, and it backfired. Remember that? I do, and now Handel is in Congress, and very likely going back for a second term. The Ox? Well, he’s had better days…

Brian the Boogeyman is a bad look, which could have been easily avoided by following Handel’s example. I’m not sure what has been gained by staying in office as Secretary of State, but it’s undoubtedly given Kemp some headaches as he’s been accused repeatedly of repressing the vote and given Democrats extra ammunition in a state that, yes, despite what politicos keep asserting, is becoming increasingly less white and will eventually become purple to blue given the current demographic makeup of each party.

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Gregs
Gregs

Thanks for this piece. It’s part of why I like this site. I have been studying this and trying to understand what was at the bottom of this issue and then I heard Sen. Mary Margaret Oliver say on last Friday’s Political Rewind that the Republicans in the legislature have seen fit to introduce legislation to make it harder to vote in every single session since they took power seventeen years ago. Yes, every year there is some bill introduced, many passed, to regulate the “right to vote.” I had to ask myself the same question I ask whenever someone… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

The apparatus of the State of Georgia, try as hard as it could, couldn’t prove fraud in this case: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com/news/local_news/quitman-defendant-not-guilty/article_72d66c2a-3ee7-11e4-ad9a-f70f745a1195.html

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

What’s been gained? About $90,000 for $30,000 worth of work, two-thirds of a year’s health insurance and pension credit, and the catbird’s seat on anything elections-office wise affecting his or others candidacy.

If there’s not a requirement that a voter be promptly notified an absentee ballot has been rejected, their should be. And surely an absentee ballot that weight one ounce and fits in a standard business envelope can be developed. The current ballots cost voters collectively hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in extra postage.

FreeDuck
FreeDuck

Thanks for clearing up a lot of murkiness around this issue.

bethebalance
bethebalance

Thanks for digging in on this. Because the insidiousness is often in the details, where folks can abuse administrative discretion. I haven’t read the Court opinions, but I imagine the legal question is whether requiring exact match is “necessary” in order to achieve “sufficient evidence” (using strict scrutiny and administrative law standards). What truly deeply bugs me is that Kemp is obviously not smart enough to figure this out himself. That means he directed SoS lawyers to find it and condone it. I don’t know if the Dept. of Law got involved or issued any opinion, but if so, that’s… Read more »

chefdavid
Benevolus
Benevolus

Maybe, maybe not. There is no indication that that has anything to do with voting or registration. Those ID’s are almost certainly for people to be able to get jobs (and pay taxes). The prospect of a person who is here illegally showing up to vote with a fake ID is quite remote. They wouldn’t want to interact with the government in that way and commit a felony in the process. What are the chances that they can/would find out the specific precinct of the person they are impersonating? How many of those ID’s are even for local people? Even… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus
Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

And it’s stupid to consider doing so unless a race is very close.

Gregs
Gregs

Could they use these fake ids to buy guns?

chefdavid
bethebalance
bethebalance

Correction: There is a very very very (very) small amount of voter fraud. What I noticed was conspicuously missing from the article you linked, was the link to the Heritage Foundation report itself. There’s a reason for that. Then when I searched for it, even the Heritage Report itself didn’t detail data on the dates of the cases. There’s a reason for that too. (Because it makes it sound scarier- to help folks freak out.) So here’s the Heritage “data” (not actually data, but data points.) There have been about 1100 cases disposed of since the 2000 election, with some… Read more »

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

There is significant fraud in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, so they should be eliminated until there’s no chance of fraud. Am I right?

Benevolus
Benevolus

Brian Kemp appears to be perpetuating some pretty serious voter fraud even as we speak.
https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/414117-judge-rules-against-kemp-in-absentee-ballot-request

Gregs
Gregs

Trump appointed a comission to find the three million illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. What did they find?

https://apnews.com/f5f6a73b2af546ee97816bb35e82c18d

FreeDuck
FreeDuck

The author seems to conflate election fraud with voter fraud. There is a difference, which becomes evident if you go to the Heritage site and browse the database. https://www.heritage.org/voterfraud/search The database includes a lot of things that most people don’t think of when they think of voter fraud — like forging signatures on a ballot initiative petition, or running for office when you aren’t eligible. If you select the category: “Impersonation Fraud At The Polls” you see barely a page of results, and many of perpetrators were poll workers. I would love it if they would provide a spreadsheet with… Read more »

bethebalance
bethebalance

If was too easy to analyze, you wouldn’t be able to make misleading headlines from it.
It is admittedly really difficult to have a relevant and forward-moving conversation when repetitively debunked conspiracy theories are given a free pass to feign credibility.