By Sarah Moon

Each state employs specific requirements for votes to be verified and subsequently counted. As a result, U.S. voters can face challenges in casting error-free absentee or mail-in ballots.

While those mail-in ballot requirements generally vary by state, in every state, voters are required to provide a valid signature on their ballot and related documents. However, mistakes do happen, so what do states do if a ballot is missing a signature or if there is a discrepancy in signature matching?

Some states utilize a range of ‘ballot curing’ procedures to notify voters and allow them ample time to correct these signature-related errors. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states currently require election administrators and/or officials to conduct this ballot curing process. The remaining states typically do not count ballots that require correction.

How does ‘ballot curing’ work?

Most states employ a signature verification process to confirm the identity of absentee voters. These signatures are then compared to the voter’s signature that the state may already have on file, often sourced through an individual’s voter registration file.

When the voter’s signature is missing on the ballot envelope or if there is sufficient reason to claim discrepancy in the signature matching process, the voter’s eligibility may have to confirmed through alternative means.

Ballot curing requires both notification and correction. Often, election administrators or state election officials inform voters about problems with their ballot via phone, e-mail or mail. Then, the voter is given time to cure such errors. To resolve these discrepancies, voters frequently are asked to provide additional information to confirm their identity or to provide a new signature that verifies their eligibility.

What are some state variations?

States conduct the curing process in different ways. Some states only allow voters to correct their ballots in cases of discrepancies in signature matching but not in cases of missing signatures. Other states require a witness signature on mail-in ballots alongside the voter’s.

These ballot cures must be completed by a specified deadline, which also varies by state and locality. To complicate things further, many voters aren’t familiar with the curing process and may dismiss notifications that are sent to them via mail. Postal slowdowns could result in delays and because voters have limited time to correct any deficiencies, these delays could result in ballots not being counted.

These inconsistencies in process and the resulting challenges have continuously received pushback, most notably following the 2020 election.

While ballot curing is an important step in making sure each vote is counted, it does not provide a complete solution to ballot rejection. The lack of standardization and other disqualifying errors cannot be fixed through existing ballot curing procedures. In addition to streamlining and easing the ballot curing process, these issues and others could be further examined to improve the procedures for counting mail-in ballots.

What can states do?

States can make changes to their absentee/mail-in ballot processes and help educate voters about related rules and procedures. Employing available technologies, Colorado started an initiative to help voters ensure that their votes are counted. These efforts specifically targeted younger populations in order to encourage their experiences participating in the democratic process. All 64 counties in the state utilized the TXT2CURE program to minimize the impacts of ballot rejection, and the state continues to boast one of the lowest rates of signature-rejected ballots out of all states employing a vote-by-mail-for-all system.

The TXT2CURE program uses smartphones to ease voter accessibility following a rejected ballot. When a Colorado voter learns of a signature discrepancy on their ballot, they can simply text a provided phone number and receive a link to a customized webpage. Once the voter enters their voter identification number, they can simply sign a digital affidavit and submit a photo of an acceptable photo ID to complete the process. In a few minutes and conveniently on their phone, voters are assured that their ballot is cast and counted.

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