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Citing Federal Judge's Ruling, N.H. Tells Towns Not to Compare Absentee Voters' Signatures

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Mary Saucedo, left, was one of the plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit challenging the state's absentee ballot procedures. Saucedo is legally blind and requires help from her husband, Gus, to complete her absentee ballot paperwork.

State officials are not challenging a federal judge's decision to strike down New Hampshire's "signature mismatch" procedures. Instead, they have instructed pollworkers not to compare a voter's handwriting on their absentee ballot with the handwriting used on their absentee ballot application.

According to instructions sent to local election officials on Aug. 24, local moderators should move forward with counting someone's absentee ballot as long as it belongs to a registered voter whose name appears on the local checklist, the affidavit attached to the ballot "appears to be properly executed" and "the signatures appear to be the signatures of a duly qualified voter who has not voted at the election."

The state says an absentee ballot can still be rejected "if a voter fails to sign either the absentee ballot application or the affidavit envelope, or if the documents contain different names." 

A copy of these instructions can be found on the Department of Justice's website

Until recently, New Hampshire law allowed a moderator to discard an absentee voter's ballot if they thought the signature on it differed too much from the one on their absentee ballot application. But a federal judge ruled that this longstanding practice "failed to gurantee basic fairness," in part because voters had no way of knowing their ballots were tossed until it was too late to intervene.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit challenging the signature matching provision on behalf of a trio of voters whose ballots were discarded in the 2016 general election, one of whom was a Manchester woman who is legally blind. You can read more about the case here

Casey McDermott is an editor and reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio, where she works with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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