When seeing a patient for the first time, or for an annual re-assessment, they are required to sign a form, with four signature lines. If a patient has Parkinson’s disease, they will usually state that their handwriting is “horrible,” and rarely, if ever, do all four signatures match. If I were to compare signatures from year to year, I would no doubt see objective evidence of a decline in fine motor skills. And yet, signature verification is the method many states use when validating ballots for mail in voting.
Election board procedures for verifying signatures vary widely, and lawsuits in several states argue this deprives people of the right to vote. Many states, require election officials to compare a voter’s signature with existing records before issuing and counting absentee ballots, and in some instances, election officials aren’t adequately trained to verify signatures and don’t give voters proper notice to fix handwriting issues.
Verifying a voter’s signature on a mailed ballot is a key part of election security, similar to the way you sign a poll book when you vote in person, however, in many jurisdictions, election officials with little or no training in verifying a person’s signature are tasked with doing just that.
In Florida, the state where I live, if an elector returns a vote-by-mail ballot that does not include a signature or the signature does not match the signature in the registration books, the supervisor allows the elector to complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election. A photocopy of the voter’s identification is required to be submitted along with the cure affidavit if the voter’s signature does not match the one on file.
Every state has its own procedure, and in some, the return envelopes are checked for a signature on the affirmation statement and whether the signature corresponds with the absentee request or voter registration record. If signatures do not match, the envelope is marked “invalid” and not counted.
In a signature match system, mail-in ballots are only counted if election officials determine that the voter’s signature on their ballot “matches” the signature on their absentee ballot application or voter registration form, however, election officials are not trained handwriting analysts and are not given clear guidance for accurately verifying a signature match. As a result, thousands of ballots are rejected each election because of issues related to signature or penmanship, including a signature changing over time and disabilities affecting the ability to write.
In several states, lawsuits have been filed asserting that signature verification “is an inherently flawed means of determining whether a mail-in ballot is fraudulent or unlawfully cast, and is biased against those who have greater signature variance, including those with disabilities, those with less formal levels of education, elderly and young voters. Joining a lawsuit in New Jersey, is a 78-year-old Middlesex County resident whose hand tremors brought on by Parkinson’s disease make it virtually impossible for him to sign his name consistently. Mr. Riggs intends to vote by mail in this year’s upcoming elections in order to protect his health from the threat of COVID-19, but because he cannot produce a consistent signature—even at times finding his own writing illegible—Mr. Riggs fears his ballot could very likely be rejected. Without a safe way for him to cure his ballot, Mr. Riggs is at high risk of disenfranchisement.
It is almost universal among individuals with Parkinson’s disease, that a decline in handwriting (micrographia) is one of the first motor symptoms of the disease, and it usually deteriorates with disease progression. Handwriting can also change due to other conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, essential tremor, or arthritis.
A common source of fulfillment for most adults living in a democracy is the ability to perform the basic civic duty of participating in elections by voting, a fundamental human right in democracies. Diseases that limit social functioning and mobility may hamper such participation, particularly where the process demands the physical presence of the participant.[i]
To check your own states verification of mail in ballots, visit: https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vopp-table-14-how-states-verify-voted-absentee.aspx
[i] O. Oguntunde, O. Ojo, O. Agabi, M. Rizig, N. Okubadejo. PARKINSON DISEASE HAMPERS PARTICIPATION IN THE CIVIC RESPONSIBILITY OF VOTING: a study of barriers to expression of a fundamental human right [abstract]. Mov Disord. 2019; 34 (suppl 2).
My MissionTo enlist individuals in their treatment, and help them express their personality & spirit through voice. To educate and empower. Mary Spremulli, MA, CCC-SLP * FiTOUR® Group Exercise Instructor * Voice Aerobics® A Whole Body Approach to Voice Practice
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