August 2017 Essential Politics archives

This is Essential Politics for August 2017. Find our daily look at California political and government news over here.

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2018 electionState government

A lawsuit claims California absentee ballots were wrongly rejected because of 'penmanship' problems

 (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A lawsuit filed in a California appeals court on Thursday alleges the ballots of as many as 45,000 voters weren't counted in November because of the state's flawed rules for verifying the signatures of those who vote by mail.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of a Sonoma County voter who said his ballot wasn't counted after his signature on the ballot envelope was deemed to not match the one that elections officials had on file.

"People should not be denied their right to vote because a government official doesn't like their penmanship, but that’s exactly what is happening in California," said Michael Risher, an ACLU staff attorney, in a written statement.

The legal action comes as a number of counties have been given permission under a new state law to close neighborhood polling places in 2018 and instead send all voters a ballot in the mail.

State election law requires county officials to reject a ballot if the signatures aren't believed to be a match. But, the lawsuit said, existing law "does not prescribe how elections officials should make this determination or require officials to have training in handwriting identification or comparison."

A spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla said that 99.3% of absentee ballots in the state were accepted and counted in the November 2016 election. Padilla has sponsored legislation pending in Sacramento to help voters who forget to sign the ballot envelope.

But that change wouldn't solve the allegations contained in the lawsuit, given that existing law forbids the counting of a ballot if an elections official thinks the signatures "do not compare."

The lawsuit says that the plaintiff, Peter La Follette, would have worked to resolve the signature mismatch had he been notified by Sonoma County elections officials before the final vote tally was certified.

In October, a Florida judge ordered changes to that state's rules regarding signature checking on absentee ballots.

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