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Texas federal judge rules mail-in voter verification process unconstitutional
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Texas federal judge rules mail-in voter verification process unconstitutional

A Texas federal judge has ruled that the method by which the state verifies signatures on mail-in ballots must be corrected in advance of the November presidential election.

This case arose when plaintiffs had their mail-in ballots rejected on the basis of a perceived signature mismatch. Both plaintiffs were notified that their ballot had been rejected after the election. The Texas Election Code enumerates the process of voting by mail and the signature-comparison processes used to determine whether a ballot is valid. A ballot is rejected if the Early Voting Ballot Board (EVBB) or Signature Verification Committee (SVC) determines that the signature on the carrier envelope or ballot application was “executed by a person other than the voter.” This policy was the source of the present suit.

In his order Tuesday, Judge Orlando Garcia agreed with the plaintiffs’ challenge as the Election Code “apparently permits violations of voters’ constitutional rights.” He also stated that “existing procedural remedies do not protect voters from the risk of disenfranchisement created by the State’s error-prone signature-comparison process.” Rather, the state should have implemented additional procedural protections for voters by providing a more-timely notice of ballot rejection and requiring EVBB members to consult voter signatures on file from previous years. Judge Garcia concluded by indicating that “Texas’s existing process of rejecting mail-in ballots due to alleged signature mismatching fails to guarantee basic fairness” because “voters are provided with no meaning fully opportunity to cure improperly rejected ballots.” As a result, the signature-comparison method was deemed unconstitutional.

In accordance with this order, the Texas Secretary of State must issue an advisory to all local election officials expressing the unconstitutionality of rejecting a voter ballot due to perceived signature mismatch if such voter is not given a meaningful opportunity to fix their ballot’s rejection. Additionally, prior to rejecting a ballot because of signature mismatch, signatures must be compared with those on file with the county clerk or voter registrar from the previous six years. Lastly, if an election official fails to comply with the advisories, the Secretary must tell the official that they are “impeding the free exercise of a citizen’s voting rights.”