ND Signature Verification on Mail Ballots is Flawed.

We’re weeks away from the June election. Many in North Dakota will be voting by mail for the first time. A March 26th executive order from Governor Doug Burgum authorized the upcoming election to be held by mail. The order was the right decision to try and limit exposure to voters during the covid19 pandemic. Though vote-by-mail isn’t new in North Dakota, it has its flaws. One flaw led to a recent lawsuit because the state threw out a ballot without notifying the voter.

ND has allowed no-excuse absentee voting – or vote-by-mail – for a long time. More voters are choosing to cast their ballot this way. In 2018, 30% of the vote was done by mail. Yet, some of those ballots have been thrown out and those voters were never notified. The reason? Signatures didn’t appear to match.

Our signature verification process is flawed. A voter fills out a mail-in ballot application and signs. They get a ballot, vote, sign, and send. That ballot is then reviewed by election boards and poll clerks to verify and compare the signatures. The Secretary of State provides little guidance in how the signature verification is to be done. If canvassing boards and officials believe the signatures don’t match, they throw the ballot out, the vote isn’t counted, and they move on. That’s it.

According to the lawsuit, 334 ballots were thrown out in 2018. That might not sound like a lot, but imagine if some those votes came from a district where a race was decided by a handful of votes. They were thrown out and there is never an attempt to contact the voter. That is ridiculous.

Advocacy groups say North Dakota is one of three states that doesn’t attempt to contact the voter if there is an error. That is ridiculous, but I repeat myself. The contact information for the voter is provided on the application! There shouldn’t be much administrative work needed, just the will and an effort.

Not only would contacting the voter benefit the individual and allow for an explanation (like the individual who had MS and brought the lawsuit), it would help with election integrity. Some people pound on tables and talk about voter fraud and – without evidence – how vote-by-mail will make fraud easier. This lawsuit seems to show the opposite. Voter disenfranchisement by the State of North Dakota.

Let’s put ourselves in Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s shoes. As the chief election official, wouldn’t you want to contact the voter to investigate why the signatures didn’t match? Not only would you ensure that every legitimate vote was counted, you’d be able to pursue attempts at legitimate fraud.

This flaw must be corrected. We are going to be voting by mail in a matter of weeks. Additionally, we should be expanding vote-by-mail in America. Period. The blueprint is out there, we just need officials to take initiative.

Tyler Axness
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