Part 2: Mail-in ballot verification is a sham!

Specifically, high-volume signature verification is a farce.


Yesterday, we walked thru my linked experiences: getting a Maryland driver’s license, registering to vote, requesting an absentee ballot and casting an absentee ballot.

The key takeaways:

  • As part of the D/L process, the state captured an electronic facsimile of my signature (that I etch-a-sketched on an electronic keypad)
  • Also as part of the D/L process, I registered to vote … and, my electronic facsimile signature was posted to my voting registration.
  • Later, I requested an absentee ballot online.  When I did, I provided basic ID info but no signature — just a checked box indicating that I agreed to an electronic non-signing
  • When I sent in my absentee ballot, I manually signed the over-wrapping secrecy envelope — not the ballot.

Now, the million dollar question: Given the above takeaways, how did my ballot get verified?


Disclaimer: While I have some experience with signature capture & verification … and have researched the topic … much of this analysis is based on reasonable conjecture, not verified facts and testimony.

My absentee ballot was enclosed in a secrecy envelope which had a window exposing a unique bar code that identified me for process tracking.

So when my ballot packet was received, the visible bar code was scanned and I got an email saying that my ballot was received.

Then, I imagine, the processor opened the envelope flap to reveal my manual signature.

So far, so good.


Now for the tricky part … verifying that I was really the person who sent in the ballot.

Note that the pivotal piece of evidence (i.e. the only piece) to work with is my signature.

Let’s imagine a best case: a well-trained, conscientious, unbiased processor searches the digital voter registration files and gets my electronic facsimile signature displayed on a computer screen.

The processor then eyeballs the 2 signatures — one is my”real”, manual signature and one is an electronic facsimile (the one I etched in at the DMV) — and decides whether or not they match.


That’s a best case …

So, how much confidence do you have in that process?

Color me skeptical.

Since I’ve watched practically every episode of Forensic Files (some multiple times), I know that signature verification is as much an art, as it is  a science … it requires an expert eye and meticulous, time-consuming inspection.

Signature verification is not an activity well-executed by amateurs in a high-volume, time-constrained, politically-charged processing environment

Note: Some questionable cases can be quickly and easily flagged for exception processing — e.g. the signature is missing on the ballot envelope, there’s a gross name mismatch (Joe Smith instead of Digger Brown), or the signature syntax is wrong (e.g. John Doe or John Quincy Doe instead of what’s on file: John Q. Doe)

So, the error rate can be sky-high.

How high?

A Las Vegas reporter conducted a test and found an 89% failure rate identifying mismatched signatures.

For details of the test, see the source article Evidence that signature verification is a flawed security measure.

That’s not surprising … it’s well known and common-sensical that there are problematic differences between manual and electronic facsimile signatures (which are used for ballot verification).  People write differently pen-on-paper than they do stylus-on-keypad.

Given the expected level of manual-to-electronic variations, it’s easy to imagine processors either (1) disqualifying practically all ballots, or (2) lowering their guard and ok’ing practically all ballots that come through.

Note: Some states & counties use signature matching software. Keep in mind a that — unlike a fingerprint —  a person’s signature is subject to natural variance (e.g. depending on the signing media) … and, that a particularly challenging comparison is  a scanned picture of a manual signature done on paper to an  electronically etched facsimile signature. Given the wide “natural” variations, matching software tends to have a low correlation threshold — say, passing a signature as a valid match if it’s 40% like the signature on file.  Accordingly, no professional election integrity body has certified signature matching software for use. Of course, that hasn’t stopped states from using it (e.g. Nevada). Source 


Widening the “tolerance levels” and ok’ing practically all ballots — is a particularly thorny problem, since there’s no way to retroactively reconstruct  the ballot to signature linkage.

Important: Keep in mind that mail-in ballots aren’t signed … it’s the over-wrap secrecy envelope that’s signed.

Once the signature is deemed “verified”, the signature-bearing envelope is set aside or discarded … and, even if it isn’t tossed, there’s no practical way to reunite  it with its ballot.

So, even if a signature is later found to be invalid, there’s no way to ID and toss the suspect ballot.


Bottom line: The only way to verify a ballot is via signature verification … which is, at best problematic … and, at worse, a complete sham.

Heaven help us.




3 Responses to “Part 2: Mail-in ballot verification is a sham!”

  1. Deepak Gupta Says:

    Prof. Homa,

    I appreciate you highlighting the concerns and loopholes in the system. I have no evidence to believe that this happened.
    I can argue similarly with data, likelihood of identity theft is much higher ( close to 100%) and it does happen, that doesn’t mean it happens everyday on mass scale.

  2. Nicho LIU Says:

    This is very very informational. Thank you, Pro Homa!

    Since it’s hard to image that fingerprints or other biometrics will be used for verification mail-ins in US, either people should be requested to submit 10 signatures on file (5 manual 5 electronical) so that a software can help with better pattern recognition; Or, just get rid of electoral collage, so that small ballots in a certain place won’t have an outsized effect on the results.

  3. Some serious efforts at ID verification… | The Homa Files Says:

    […] Part 2: Mail-in ballot verification is a sham! […]

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