Clerks make every attempt to verify ballot signatures


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — As the State of Michigan is on track to shatter absentee voter records this Election Day, a local clerk is talking about the most common mistakes that could keep your ballot from being counted.

City of Muskegon Clerk Ann Meisch said her staff has already checked in and verified the signature of more than 5,000 absentee ballots.

In a much smaller pile, Meisch pulled out the ballots that need correcting before they can be opened and counted on Election Day.

“That does not match,” Meisch said comparing a signature on the outside of a ballot envelope to the signature on that voter’s registration form.

An absentee ballot that arrives with a mismatched signature, or no signature at all, will be rejected come Election Day, but first, the clerk will make every effort to contact the voter and collect a valid signature.

“We look to see if we have a phone number for them so we can contact them,” Meisch said. “If not, we actually go to their house and we try to get their signature that way from them and we explain it to them. We also send letters as well, but we will make every attempt all the way up until Election Day.”

A letter from the city of Muskegon informing a voter that the signature on their absentee ballot application does not match the one on file. (Oct. 20, 2020)

Meisch said this has always been the protocol in her office, but just this month, it became Michigan law for clerks to contact voters if the signature on the absentee ballot is missing or doesn’t match the signature on file.

If a voter registered or requested their absentee ballot online, the signature on file at the Secretary of State’s office is the one used for verification.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson made the push for such legislative change following the August 2020 primary election where 2,225 ballots were rejected statewide because of missing or mismatched signatures.

In the City of Muskegon, Meisch said it usually comes down to just a handful or so that end up rejected each election.

“On this election it could be a dozen, (or) it could be 20,” she said. “That’s a higher amount, but also we have already the highest amount of absentee ballots we’ve ever experienced. “So. I do expect it to be a little bit more than what we normally have.”

She said other signature mishaps have to do with power of attorney.

“We’ll get a few where the power of attorney will have signed it, and it’ll say ‘POA’ next to it, but under the election law, power of attorneys cannot sign for a voter,” Meisch said.

When it comes to “spoiling a ballot,” Meisch said that’s very different than a ballot that gets rejected.

She most spoiled ballots result from a voter requesting a do-over of sorts.

“It’s a whole lot of ‘I messed up’, or maybe it arrived to them in the mail and it got wrinkled or something like that,” Meisch said. “Or sometimes people lose it too or it never arrives.”

She said her office marks the ballot spoiled in their system and then issues the voter a new blank ballot.

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