The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Election concerns have been the providence of certain Republicans of late, but a voter disenfranchisement lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court comes from the other side of the political spectrum.
Several progressive groups along with individual plaintiffs claim the state’s signature validation of ballots disenfranchises voters and should end.
This is not a new issue. The Washington State Auditor released a report evaluating ballot rejection rates earlier this year, and a state House committee held a hearing on the topic last week.
The courts are not the best venue to address valid concerns about ballot signatures. Instead, the Legislature should grant counties more ability to experiment to see what can be done to lower the number of ballots rejected for signature problems.
In the Nov. 8 midterm alone, nearly 24,000 ballots were challenged based on signature comparisons by election workers, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Filed by Vet Voice Foundation, The Washington Bus, El Centro de la Raza and three plaintiffs, the lawsuit seeks to ban signature rejections as unconstitutional. They point to data suggesting the process is error-plagued and disproportionately disenfranchises young people, people with disabilities and people of color.
The lawsuit contends the official matching signatures is “a minimally trained layperson” who compares the voter’s signature from the ballot envelope to the signature on file.
Counter to this, the state auditor noted that all 10 of the counties it studied provided employees with training either from the county itself or the Washington State Patrol before reviewing any signatures.
Nationally, 27 states conduct signature verification on returned absentee or mail ballots, which entails comparing the signature on the ballot envelope with a signature already on file, according to the National Association of State Legislatures.
Nine states, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., verify that a ballot has been signed, but conduct no further signature verification.
Washington should not join them. Some type of voter identification is needed to maintain faith and confidence in the elections system.
As part of its requests for the 2023 legislative session, King County Elections wants the ability to pilot alternative verification methods. King County Elections notes that “young people, people of color, and those with limited English proficiency are more likely to have their ballot rejected due to an issue with their signature.”
One such method could include adding a personal identification number or Washington state driver’s license number to the ballot signature as a secondary identification.
Washington has a solid election system, but there are necessary improvements to be made. The Legislature should work on this until signature rejection rates are consistent with overall voter demographics.