Suit opposes signature check of Michigan absentee ballots

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Democratic group on Wednesday challenged Michigan laws that require the rejection of absentee ballots if the voter's signature does not match what is on file, saying the "arbitrary and standardless" rule will unconstitutionally disenfranchise many more people following an expansion of who can vote absentee.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Detroit by super PAC Priorities USA, which is expected to file additional voting-related suits in battleground Michigan during the 2020 election cycle.

The fundamental right to vote "is contingent on the state's arbitrary and standardless signature-matching laws, which have disenfranchised hundreds of voters in recent elections for no other reason than an election official's subjective and arbitrary determination that a voter's signature on an absentee ballot (or ballot application) did not match a prior signature that the voter provided to election officials," the complaint says.

The suit says people's signatures may not match for many good reasons, including age, illness, injury, medication, pen type, ink, writing surface or position, paper quality or psychological factors. State law does not require election officials to undergo any training in signature or handwriting analysis, nor does it provide a mechanism so voters whose ballots are wrongly discarded can appeal, according to the complaint.

"In fact, no one really knows how Michigan election officials decide whether a signature on an absentee ballot or ballot application is sufficiently similar to the previously designated signature to withstand scrutiny," the suit says.

The defendant in the case is Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is named in her official capacity as the state's top election official. A spokesman said the department had not yet received the lawsuit.

In 2018, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative to let voters cast an absentee ballot without giving a reason. Absentee voters previously had to be at least 60 years old, be out of town when the polls were open or be unable to vote on Election Day due to a physical disability, religious tenets or incarceration.

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