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Updates from Washington

Know Your Rights: Voting by Mail and Signature Verification

Close-up of someone writing with a pencil

Photo by Joe Shymanski

Note: This is a shifting issue depending on your state. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your local Board of Elections.

A consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the expectation that more people will vote using an absentee or mail-in ballot this November.

In the United States, election rules and regulations fall under state jurisdictions, meaning it is up to each state to run elections as they see fit. Each state determines how voter registration will work, who can vote, where people can vote and the mechanics of the election. This has resulted in a lack of uniformity and national strategy on elections. This lack of uniformity can even be seen in whether you use the term “absentee” or “mail-in” ballot. For our purposes, we will use the term “mail-in ballot” to mean any ballot that is returned to your Board of Elections (BOE) via a drop box or the U.S. Postal Service.

One way in which states look to protect the integrity of elections via mail-in ballots has been signature verification a process where the voter signs the ballot and the signature is compared to one on file. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 31 states have a signature verification process. These states are Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Six states and the District of Columbia require a signature on the ballot but it is not used for verification purposes.

For some people with Parkinson’s, the very real concern is that the signature on the ballot may not match the signature on file. Every state has a different plan when it comes to signature verification and mail-in ballots. Prior to 2020, five states had automatic mail-in-only voting. Because of COVID-19 and concerns about safety with in-person voting, some states like California have required all voters to receive a ballot by mail. Some states, like Maryland, will automatically mail voters an absentee ballot application for the November election. Other states have made no changes but are expecting more requests for mail-in ballots. This means more states will have a higher than normal number of mail-in ballots being processed by BOE and more voters concerned about signature verification.  

If you are concerned about signature verification and making sure that your ballot counts in November, the first recommendation is to contact your Board of Elections and ask about this specific scenario. Please tell them that you have Parkinson’s and that handwriting can be different from one day to another.

Some states allow for a doctor’s note or will provide a medical form for you to complete. Other states may require a witness’ signature on the ballot. Again, please ask specifically about people with Parkinson’s whose signature may not match what is on file. You can first check your Board of Elections website but to be certain, it also would be a good idea to call and speak to someone about it.

As a personal example, my dad was involved in an accident last month that meant his signature no longer matched his voter registration. We checked his state’s BOE website and thought we had an answer. But to confirm, I called to make sure. I was informed that he could have his doctor sign a form and return it with his ballot confirming that his signature may not match. The information about a doctor’s note was under the “voters with disabilities” section of the website, but my dad did not fit their description of person with a disability.

Additionally, there is a process called “curing” that requires voters to be contacted by BOE if officials find a discrepancy with a voter’s signature. This process usually involves a very short turnaround time on the part of the voter. According to NCSL, 26 states do not have statutory language that allows for voters to correct a signature discrepancy or add a missing signature. These states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming.

If you live in one of these states, I highly recommend that you reach out to your local Board of Elections by phone if you are concerned about signature verification. While many states have a process that will allow a voter to track their ballot, that does not guarantee that corrections can be made once the ballot is submitted.

Nobody should be disenfranchised from voting because of Parkinson’s. Visit to find contact information for your state or local Board of Elections.

Also, register for our webinar on Thursday, October 15 from 12 to 1 p.m. ET to hear expert panelists discuss Parkinson’s policy priorities for research and care and how you, as an American taxpayer and voter, can advocate for Parkinson’s-supportive policies.

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