Federal Judge Rules Signatures Don’t Have to Match Absentee Ballots in South Carolina

October 28, 2020 Updated: October 28, 2020

A federal judge ruled that South Carolina elections officials must not reject any mail-in ballots due to signature mismatch.

The ruling on Oct. 27 by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, an appointee of President Barack Obama, called on the state to review and reprocess ballots that have mismatched signatures that have been rejected or set aside, according to several local news websites.

“Previously, voters who submitted a ballot with a mismatched signature were not notified of the issue nor given an opportunity to fix it before their ballot was tossed out,” the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, the organization that filed the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Any county election boards that want to match signatures have to first go to the court and obtain permission, Gergel said, adding that the officials then have to give voters an opportunity to correct the signature, according to The State newspaper.

The South Carolina Election Commission on Oct. 26 issued a directive to counties to stop matching signatures on absentee ballots. Ten counties—Allendale, Anderson, Clarendon, Georgetown, Greenville, Greenwood, Laurens, Marlboro, Orangeburg, and Spartanburg—were using the procedures, according to the paper.

“If any county board of voter registration and elections … is employing or plans to employ a signature matching procedure, it must stop doing so immediately,” South Carolina’s elections chief Marci Andino wrote, as reported by The State.

“Further, any absentee ballot that, as a result of a signature matching procedure, has been rejected, disqualified or otherwise set aside so that it will not be counted should immediately be included with those absentee ballots that will be counted, assuming that absentee ballot otherwise complies with [the absentee voting portion of state law].”

John Powers, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law who was involved in the case, told WMBF News that the ruling is “common sense,” arguing that signature matching is “contrary to South Carolina law.”

“Election officials are not experts at reviewing signatures,” he said.

According to the South Carolina Legislature’s website, an election manager “shall compare the signature on the poll list with the signature on the voter’s driver’s license, registration notification, or other identification and may require further identification of the voter and proof of his right to vote under this title as he considers necessary.” However, the rule doesn’t apply to absentee or mail-in ballots.

South Carolina absentee ballots have to be received by 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 3 to be counted.