A court in Tallahassee struck down Florida’s policy of throwing out absentee ballots when the voter’s signature doesn’t exactly match the one the state has on file. The Sunday night ruling sided with the Florida Democratic Party and Democratic National Committee and declared the policy unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker explained that the state was using a “crazy quilt of conflicting and diverging procedures” that allowed local officials who “lack formal handwriting-comparison training or education” to decide whose signature was valid and whose ballot should be thrown away.
“This Court knows disenfranchisement when it sees it and it is obscene,” he wrote.
The court also blasted the state for failing to offer voters any way to fix their ballot if their signature was in question, even though they offered this safety net to voters who simply forgot to sign their ballot at all.
“The State of Florida has categorically disenfranchised thousands of voters arguably for no reason other than they have poor handwriting or their handwriting has changed over time.”
“It is illogical, irrational, and patently bizarre for the State of Florida to withhold the opportunity to cure from mis-matched signature voters while providing that same opportunity to no-signature voters,” Judge Walker wrote. “In doing so, the State of Florida has categorically disenfranchised thousands of voters arguably for no reason other than they have poor handwriting or their handwriting has changed over time.”
The court also waved away the state’s argument that allowing voters to fix their signatures would be too expensive and burdensome, writing: “Even assuming that it would be an administrative inconvenience — and the evidence shows it is not — that interest cannot justify stripping Florida voters of their fundamental right to vote and to have their votes counted.”
If polls remain tight in the key swing state, this ruling could have a major impact on election results. More than 2.3 million people voted by mail in Florida in 2012, and about 1 percent of those ballots were rejected that year. A study by the University of Florida found that Democrats were much more likely to have their ballot rejected than Republicans.