Signature Verification and Witness Requirements in the 2020 Elections
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 92 million voters requested or were sent a mail ballot for the 2020 general election. In the months leading up to the election, some experts estimated that up to 80 million Americans would submit a mail ballot in the 2020 general election. In the end, approximately 73 million votes—or 46% of all votes cast—were cast by mail, more than double the number cast by mail in 2016. Many of these voters were using absentee ballots for the first time and not aware of the procedures used by their state to confirm their identity on their mail ballots. While rules differed by state, they typically included requirements that the voter sign the return ballot envelope and, often, that the voter’s signature on the return envelope match the voter’s signature on file with election officials. Experts predicted that the increase in mail ballots for the 2020 general election would likely result in a higher number and a higher percentage of ballots being rejected—a prediction driven by the high number of expected first-time users of mail ballots—voters more likely to make mistakes when completing their ballots. Observers also expressed concerns about how election officials would determine whether voter signatures on their return envelopes matched their signatures on file. The early data available regarding mail voting in the 2020 general election suggests that election officials rejected a lower percentage of mail ballots than in previous years but, due to the increase of mail voting, a higher absolute number of mail ballots. This report examines the signature verification landscape across the United States during the 2020 elections, with a particular emphasis on the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Authors: Ali Bloomgarden, Arushi Gupta, Garrett Jensen, Zahavah Levine, Chris Middleton, and Kyra Sikora