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

Specifically, high-volume signature verification is a farce.
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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?

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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.

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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.

THINK ABOUN THAT FOR A MOMENT !

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 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

2 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.

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