Appeals court upholds Minnesota procedures for checking absentee ballot signatures

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld state procedures on when election judges must review signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, knocking back a challenge from a conservative election organization that argued the law requires more scrutiny.

Monday’s unanimous ruling is the latest dismissal of a push from the Minnesota Voters Alliance to change the makeup and procedures around absentee ballot boards, which must accept or reject absentee ballots. It’s part of an effort from conservatives nationally to change the way absentee ballots are handled.

Under dispute in the case are the signatures required on the envelope included with each absentee ballot sent to a voter who requests one. The signature is needed from a voter — or someone designated by the voter if that person is unable to write — to certify that the person is eligible to vote.

In the case, attorneys for the alliance argued election judges — who serve on absentee ballot boards — must rely on all of the information in front of them, including signature comparison, to ensure that the voter signed the certification on the envelope.

The state argued Minnesota law does not require identical signatures or signature comparison unless the ballot has mismatched identification numbers, a unique identifying code connected to each voter. If the ID number is incorrectly listed, the law allows election judges to then examine signatures as an additional measure to review a ballot.

Appeals court judges agreed with the state, saying the statue requires signature comparison “only when there is an identification-number discrepancy.” The judges agreed that rules from the Secretary of State’s office giving further guidance to election officials do not conflict with the statute.

“The statute does not require signature comparison when the voter uses a nickname, abbreviation, signature mark, or initials on one of the documents,” the judges added.

The case follows another lawsuit from the Minnesota Voters Alliance that argued ballot boards should be staffed almost entirely by election judges from each party. Many Minnesota counties also rely on nonpartisan staff to help handle those ballots. Republican groups are increasing their efforts to recruit conservative election judges.

That case was rejected by the state Supreme Court, which agreed with the alliance that election judges on the board should handle signature confirmations when those are needed.

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