Signature Change Could Lead To Criminal Probe in Arizona
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- So how has your signature changed over the years?
And it is different when you're not feeling well?
All that could mean a call from state or county investigators and possibly a criminal probe.
Legislation being pushed by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would alter state laws on early ballots.
Those statutes now say that when a ballot comes in by mail, election workers compare the signature on the envelope with what they have on file, whether from prior elections or other records. If they appear to match, that's the end of it and the ballot is tallied.
If they don't, election workers attempt to contact voters to find out if they actually cast the ballot and any reasons why the signature has changed, with the most common reasons include age or illness.
An affirmative response from the voter ``cures'' the ballot and ends the process. Otherwise the ballot is not counted.
What Kavanagh wants in SB 1241 is all those unmatched signatures and "uncured'' ballots to be referred to state or county attorneys who then would launch their own investigation.
"We're just having somebody else follow up with a check in the event that the elections people have no way of contacting this person,'' he said.
That alarmed Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who said it would have a "chilling effect'' on the disabled and the elderly, the people whose signatures on the ballot envelopes are most likely to have changed.
Kavanagh, however, said that doesn't automatically mean a criminal probe.
"If they also can't contact them, then it goes nowhere,'' he said. "If they suddenly discover, though, that the individual, say, doesn't live at that address any more, then maybe they're going to want to take the original ballot and iodine-fume it for prints and see who was handling it.''
And Kavanagh insisted that individuals who ignore an inquiry will not end up being investigated.
"The case is dropped,'' he said. "You can't open a criminal probe when you have no evidence and you can't even find the person.''
But lawmakers on Wednesday defeated a more far-reaching measure that would have required Arizonans to provide more information to get their early votes counted.
On a 31-29 margin the House on Wednesday rejected a Senate-passed measure which would have added identification requirements for mail-in ballots. Republicans Michelle Udall of Mesa and Joel John of Arlington joined with the Democrats to quash the measure.
The vote drew an angry reaction from Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City.
"In places like Afghanistan to vote, they require a biometric technology, retinal scans and your fingerprint on each ballot,'' he said. "So the fact we're voting 'no' on simple ask to put your birth date is quite mind boggling.''
But the foes said it's more complex than that.
Under current law the only thing required on an early ballot envelope is a signature. Election workers then compare that with what they have on file from other sources, including previous election information and other records.
If they match, that's the end of it and the ballot is counted. If they do not, an effort is made to contact the voter and find out whether they did, in fact, cast the ballot and why a signature might not match.
Usual reasons include age or illness. If election workers are satisfied they submit the ballot for processing.
SB 1713 sought to add a new requirement that those voting early fill out and submit with their early ballot an affidavit that includes their date of birth and then either their driver's license number, non-operating state ID number or the last four digits of their social security number.
The change crafted by Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, comes on the heels of historic turnout and record early voting in the 2020 election.
"There is some feeling that signature verification, while a good thing, is not enough to establish a level of confidence that I think we need,'' Mesnard said when he pushed the measure through the Senate.
But it also follows highly publicized claims by Donald Trump prior to and even following the last election that early voting leads to widespread fraud.
Trump lost Arizona to Joe Biden by 10,457 votes. And Teran said Arizona should not be changing laws because of "the fact that he didn't like the outcome of the election.''
"It will disenfranchise voters,'' said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley. And Rep. Richard Andrade, D-Glendale, called it "just another form of voter suppression.''
Kavanagh said the new requirements hardly present a hurdle.
"Everybody knows their date of birth, so I don't see how there could be a problem here,'' he said. And for those who don't have -- or don't know -- their driver's license number, there's the alternative of the last four digits of the social security number "which everybody has since childhood.''
But Rep. Jasmne Blackwater-Nygren, D-Red Mesa, said it's not that simple.
Take her grandmother, who she said was not born in a hospital and has no birth certificate.
Her driver's license lists Nov. 15, an arbitrary date only because the family says she was born in the fall. By contrast, she is listed as born on Nov. 17 on her Indian Health System documents and Nov. 16 on her social security card.
And Rep. Jennifer Jermaine, D-Chandler, said many Native Americans are unaware of their social security number as the ID they need on reservation is their tribal identification card. Yet that is not one of the permissible pieces of information that can be included to verify a ballot.
Rep. Lorenzo Sierra, D-Cashion, said SB 1713 by itself won't kill democracy.
"Democracy will be killed by thousands of cuts,'' he said. "This is one of those cuts.''