PHOENIX — A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Arizona doesn’t have to give voters who forget to sign their mail ballot time after the election to resolve the issue, rejecting a lawsuit filed by Democrats.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, overturned a lower-court ruling that found it’s unconstitutional for Arizona to give voters time after an election to resolve mismatched signatures but not missing signatures. The appellate judges said Arizona’s interest in reducing the burden on busy poll workers justifies the disparity.
The overwhelming majority of Arizona voters cast mail ballots, which must be placed in a signed envelope to be counted. The signature on the ballot envelope is compared to others on file to confirm the voter’s identity.
Through the 2018 election, counties had their own policies around how to handle rejected ballots. All counties provided a post-election period for voters to fix signatures that were rejected because they didn’t closely match those on file, but the amount of time varied. Only some counties allowed voters to fix missing signatures after Election Day.
The Legislature in 2019 created a uniform five-day post-election period to fix mismatched signatures in federal elections but did not address missing signatures. Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tried to include a five-day period for fixing both missing and mismatched signatures in the 2020 election procedures manual, but Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich refused to approve it.
Historically, Democrats have waited longer than Republicans to turn in their ballots, so they’re more likely to have a missing signature caught after Election Day when it’s too late to resolve it. The 2020 election jumbled voting patterns, however, as Democrats dominated early ballot returns.
The suit was brought by the Democratic National Committee, the Arizona Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The Republican National Committee and the Arizona Republican Party defended the state’s existing policy.
Last year, 587 ballots were rejected for a bad signature and 1,455 for a missing signature in Maricopa County, where voters cast 61% of Arizona’s ballots.