Capitol

The State Capitol in Harrisburg.

THE ISSUE: “Matching the signatures of voters between their signed ballots and versions archived on other forms of ID is one of the centerpieces of Republicans’ efforts to enforce stricter voting measures in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Shaniece Holmes-Brown wrote recently in an article for The Caucus, a investigative publication of LNP Media Group that reports on Pennsylvania state government. (Holmes-Brown’s article also appeared in Tuesday’s LNP | LancasterOnline.) But comparing a signature from a polling location or mail-in ballot to a previous signature on record is not simple. And setting up a system to fairly handle such a process would be expensive, Holmes-Brown reported. 

Before delving into the debate surrounding signature matching, it’s important that we again articulate our stance on Pennsylvania’s election laws.

We believe they could use a fine-tuning, not a complete overhaul. For example, we have long agreed with officials in both parties who want to update the law to give county election workers more time to precanvass mailed ballots.

But no election “reform” proposals should be put forth that have as their basis the notion that we must “rebuild trust” in the state’s election process. Pennsylvania’s elections, including the one in 2020, have been secure and fair. If some believe otherwise — that state laws must be “remedied” to “restore trust” — that’s because many Republicans keep pushing a false narrative about election integrity that disingenuously undermines democracy and turns “distrust” into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Proposals to change state election law must proceed from the clear understanding that individual instances of voter fraud are incredibly rare.

So, on to signature matching.

Understanding that Pennsylvania elections are already secure and fair, the burden should be on those advocating for signature matching to explain why we truly need this cumbersome additional layer of protection — one that would require extensive recruiting and training of election workers.

It, along with other overhauls proposed by Republicans, “would cost nearly $92 million in combined one-time and recurring costs,” Holmes-Brown reported.

That’s considerable effort and money toward a solution in search of a problem.

Can true Republicans who make fiscal conservatism one of their defining planks be comfortable spending millions on this initiative?

A closer look

The Caucus article spotlighted why instituting signature matching in Pennsylvania would be complicated and cumbersome.

First, there’s the reality — and all of us can relate to this — that signatures change. Our signatures today aren’t the same as they were when we were 18. They can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors: what kind of paperwork we’re filling out, if we’re rushed, how we’re standing or sitting, the pen or writing surface, etc.

“Signatures change over time,” Holmes-Brown reported. “And even if there are several versions of a voter’s signature on file, technology and training are essential for election workers to be able to judge them accurately, the experts say.”

To show how complex the issue can be, The Caucus reviewed some state Republican legislators’ signatures, highlighting both consistencies and discrepancies. The images that accompany the article (which you can view at lanc.news/SignatureMatch) are telling. Two examples:

— The signature of House Speaker Bryan Cutler of Drumore Township “sometimes features cursive writing that is clear and recognizable, while other times it contains a clear first letter followed by a line with no distinct letters. He also includes his middle initial on some occasions, but not consistently. The differences are visible in records signed within a few years of each other,” Holmes-Brown reported.

— Meanwhile, “the signatures on record for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman look distinctly different in some instances. On legal expense documents, for example, his last name appears with clarity, showing a large capital ‘C,’ a circular ‘o’ and clear arches for ‘r,’ ‘m’ and ‘n.’ In other documents, like statements of financial interest, his last name is more of a squiggly line.”

Would those lawmakers appreciate having their ballots questioned and potentially even tossed out simply because their signatures naturally vary so much?

Should any of us potentially be disenfranchised because of what someone deems to be a squiggle leaning in the wrong direction?

Of course, there’s a science to studying the squiggles. But building and staffing such an infrastructure — one that would necessarily be careful and transparent about examining ballots — would cost significant time and money.

“Currently we are not equipped to do signature verification,” Patrick Christmas, policy director at Committee of Seventy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works on elections issues, told The Caucus. “It would take years for resources to be put in place and for counties across the state to implement the process properly.”

Going into more detail, Christmas explained that the process for challenging any single signature during an election could cost between $10 and $30. The voter would have to be contacted and staff members would potentially have to track down and verify different versions of the voter’s signature.

Each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties would need a sufficient number of trained staffers. Thad Hall, director of elections and voter registration in Mercer County, told The Caucus that a bipartisan verification team would have to be recruited and trained for signature verification, in order to ensure an accurate analysis during in-person voting.

While the GOP’s version of election overhaul would be costly — the aforementioned $92 million in combined one-time and recurring costs — that wouldn’t even cover everything. The Pennsylvania Department of State indicated there would also be extended costs for counties to pay for training and purchase ballot-processing machines with signature verification capabilities, according to The Caucus.

Asking taxpayers to absorb such costs in an attempt to address an imaginary problem is absurd.

We’ll say it again: There’s room for some refining of Pennsylvania’s election laws to streamline secure processes that already work well and are carried out admirably by election officials from both parties and countless poll workers who deserve our gratitude. We need our elected leaders to work together on those refinements — not this continued push by Republicans to unnecessarily overhaul existing good laws by adding costly, complicated and questionable processes such as signature matching, all in service of the Big Lie.

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