In the August primary election, 2,225 absentee voters in Michigan had their ballots thrown out because of issues related to their signature, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.
Absentee voters are asked to sign the return envelopes containing their ballots to reduce the chance of fraud.
“It is about protecting an individual’s right to vote and making sure that they, in fact, were the person who voted,” says Canton Clerk Michael Siegrist.
1,438 voters had their absentee ballots rejected because they did not sign their return envelope. 787 people had their ballot rejected because their signature did not match what was on file. While signing the absentee ballot return envelope is meant to protect voters, botching the simple step can cost citizens their ability to vote in an election.
A bill was signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday, requiring clerks to reach out to a voter if the voter forgot to sign their absentee ballot return envelope, or if the voter’s signature does not match what’s on file. While clerks have your address, they only have your phone number or email if you included it on your application to vote absentee.
“If we don’t have an immediate form of contact, we would have to write them a letter,” says Siegrist. While he says he’s driven ballots to voters houses before, there’s not always time for that, especially in the days before an election.
Click on the player above to hear Canton Clerk Michael Siegrist talk about how to properly sign your absentee ballot return envelope.
How to sign and submit your absentee ballot
1. If you apply to vote absentee, your ballot will arrive in the mail.
2. Inside the envelope, there will be three items: your ballot, a small envelope called a “secrecy sleeve” and your return envelope.
3. After you fill out your ballot, put it in the secrecy sleeve, then put that in the return envelope. There is a space on the return envelope where you must sign.
4. If you have a driver’s license or state ID card, compare your signature to the one of that card as reference.
According to state guidance issued after a lawsuit over the signature requirement, a voter’s signature should only be deemed questionable “if it differs in multiple, significant and obvious respects from the signature on file.” Slight dissimilarities are okay, such as:
- a shakier handwriting style
- if only one letter in the first and last name match the signature on file
- if a person signs with the shortened version of their first name (say “Mike” versus “Michael”)
- if it looks like the signature has changed slightly over time.