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Your handwriting could disqualify your absentee ballot, and you likely won't know until after the election

A federal judge ordered Texas in September to give voters a chance to challenge rejected ballots, but an appeals court overturned the ruling.

FORT WORTH, Texas — With absentee voting skyrocketing in Texas due to COVID-19, the number of ballots disqualified due to a signature mismatch is likely to go up. 

For people who normally vote in-person and are taking the absentee route for the first time, know that your handwriting could get your ballot rejected.  

However, historically, it hasn't been a huge issue. 

Both data and election officials contend that the number of ballots rejected due to a signature mismatch is often less than 1% of absentee ballots returned. 

This is why Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy was shocked that his absentee ballot from a runoff and city election in July was thrown out. 

Kennedy didn't even know, until after the election was over. 

"I just couldn't believe that they didn't think that was my signature," Kennedy said. "There are parts of it that are exactly alike."

Election officials decided that Kennedy's signature on his application for his absentee ballot didn't match the one he sent back. 

Kennedy shared a photo of both signatures with WFAA. He said he wrote one signature with a pen and the other with a sharpie. 

Credit: Bud Kennedy
A photo of Kennedy's signature for his absentee application (above) vs what he wrote on his return ballot.


'It wasn't exactly the same as I've signed it when I was voting in-person,' Kennedy said. 'I didn't take it seriously. You need to take it seriously.'

Kennedy has already sent in his absentee ballot for the general election and was happy to report that it was accepted. 

He lives in Tarrant County, and in 2016, it reported a low amount of ballot rejections due to signature mismatch. 

Around 141 absentee ballots were thrown out of the 35,077 returned. 

In Collin County, the number was even lower. 

Out of an estimated 21,000 ballots returned---Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet said 17 were thrown out over handwriting issues. 

"We have very small percentages, very small," Sherbet said. 

Sherbet has over 30 years of experience in election administration, previously serving with Dallas County and Ellis County.  

He said the biggest issues with absentee ballots revolve around not filling out requests for them correctly or potentially sending back ballots wrong. 

Sherbet even said his office has been able to notify voters early so they can correct mistakes before election day. 

RELATED: Analysis: It's harder to vote in Texas than in any other state

Sometimes people forget to sign their ballots, don't properly fill out an application saying why they need one or send two back in one envelope. 

The ballot can either be returned in some cases or Sherbet recommends they vote in-person.

"We try to correct that and cure that upfront," Sherbet said. "We contact the person and say hey we have a problem." 

But if ballots are signed and sent to a ballot board for approval, Sherbet like any other election official can't do much at that point. 

He said the biggest mistake that is the most preventable is letting a spouse sign your ballot for you. 

And if a signature on a ballot looks fishy, the ballot board will vote on its authenticity by comparing old signatures on file and the signature on the application. 

By law, counties are required to notify a voter about their ballot being rejected for whatever reason--but it's within 10 days after the election. 

There's also no state election law that allows voters a chance to challenge a ballot board's rejection. 

That nearly changed in September. 

Signature lawsuit 

In 2019, George Richardson of Brazos County and Rosalie Weisfield of McAllen sued the Texas Secretary of State after their ballots were rejected due to a signature mismatch. 

The lawsuit cited that at least 1,873 mail-in ballots were thrown out due to signature mismatch in the 2018 general election. In 2016, 1,567 were cited in the lawsuit as being rejected. 

The two filed the suit alongside groups that support veterans and those with disabilities. 

Fundamentally, the suit challenged Texas' election rules regarding signature mismatch calling them a violation of the 14th Amendment. 

In September, Federal Judge Orlando Garcia sided with the plaintiffs and ordered Texas to rework how it rejects ballots involving a signature mismatch. 

Garcia opined that it was unconstitutional for ballots to be thrown out over a signature mismatch without notifying the voter and allowing them to correct the mistake. 

RELATED: Vote by mail: Here's who's eligible in Texas

He also ordered election officials in the state's 254 counties to not use the current signature comparison methods or to set up a notification system that allows voters to challenge their ballot being thrown out. 

The ruling was overturned when 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith wrote that Garcia's order would compromise the integrity of mail-in ballots. 

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith said.

Kennedy and Sherbet recommend double-checking ballots before sending them back or dropping them off. 

During his interview with WFAA, Kennedy said to take a picture of your application signature before sending a ballot back. 

"I never had a chance to fix it," Kennedy said. "Something should be done and if anything, the legislature should change that."

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