Ahead of an expected dramatic increase in mail ballots in the 2020 general election, Indiana’s signature matching process for absentee ballots was ruled unconstitutional today in Frederick v. Lawson, a case brought by Common Cause Indiana and several Indiana registered voters. Under the flawed process, thousands of Indiana voters had their ballots rejected for mismatched signatures by election officials untrained in signature matching, and the voters were never notified that their votes were not counted nor given the opportunity to correct the problem .
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ruled Indiana’s signature-match requirement for mail-in absentee ballots violates the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because affected voters are not given notice or an opportunity to cure before their ballots are rejected based on a perceived signature mismatch. The injunction permanently prohibits Indiana election officials from “rejecting any mail-in absentee ballot on the basis of a signature mismatch without adequate notice and cure procedures to the affected voter.” The court also ordered the Indiana Secretary of State to notify election officials statewide of the injunctions and to implement notice and cure procedures in time for the general election on November 3, 2020.
“This is a historic win for Indiana voters,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana. “This victory helps ensure no Hoosier voting by mail will be disenfranchised by Indiana’s flawed signature matching law. Election laws should protect people’s right to vote and the integrity of our election system. Indiana’s signature matching law failed to do either, and wrongly disenfranchised Hoosiers. The court made the right decision to block its enforcement.”
Background on the challenge to Indiana’s signature match law
The ruling blocks the enforcement of Indiana’s absentee voter law where signatures on absentee ballot envelopes are reviewed and deemed as matches – or not – with other signatures on file by county election officials. Absentee ballot counters are given no training, no standards, and no regulations to follow when evaluating signatures. Neither are they connected with experts on handwriting. Individual signatures may vary for a number of reasons – including age, disability, and limited-English proficiency – yet Indiana provides no training to elections administrators in handwriting analysis. These election officials are thus without any expertise and unable to determine with any reasonable degree of accuracy whether a submitted signature is “genuine” or not. As a result of Indiana’s constitutionally defective laws, thousands of mail-in absentee ballots submitted in the 2018 general election were invalidated, and these eligible voters were disenfranchised through no fault of their own.
These voters, moreover, were given no notice of the perceived signature problem, nor any opportunity to confirm their signature in order to have their valid vote counted. Had constitutionally-required procedural safeguards been in place, county election officials would not have rejected thousands of mail-in absentee ballots in the last election as well as in prior elections. Those votes are forever lost, but the court’s remedies requiring Indiana to conform to federal constitutional requirements will ensure that eligible citizens’ voices don’t go unheard in future elections.
To view the court order, click here.