Luciano: Voter’s signature gets a challenge in Peoria County

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From experience, Eric Augspurger urges you to make sure your vote counts.

His mail ballot was disqualified because of an issue with his signature. But after he protested, his ballot was approved.

"I want people to know," he says. "The same thing could happen to other people."

Actually, the same problem is happening to other people. But there is no villain or fraud. In fact, voters should be pleased to see that — even amid glitches — the system works.

Augspurger has lived all 65 of his years in Peoria. About a year ago, to renew his driver’s license, he went to the Illinois Secretary of State’s Driver Services Facility at the Sterling Bazaar shopping center.

As part of the renewal process, drivers can register to vote. Augspurger didn’t need to register: He has lived at the same address for 30-plus years and has voted dutifully in elections for decades. But, before he could say anything, a clerk registered him to vote.

In itself, that’s no problem. But for his driver’s license, he had to sign electronically with a stylus — or, as Augspurger describes it, a "big, plastic crayon." After he signed, he looked curiously at the strange signature.

"Of course, the signature did not come out the same as when I used a fine-point pen on a piece of paper," he says. "It was a completely foreign signature."

Still, the process went along smoothly, so he gave the signature no more thought.

Months rolled on. Augspurger, who usually votes in person, decided this fall to vote by mail. He filled out the proper paperwork and received his ballot, which he marked, signed and mailed.

He also did one more thing. Peoria County — unlike Tazewell and Woodford counties — allows voters to register with BallotTrax. By email or website query, the system lets voters know when their mail or absentee ballot is counted — or if a problem arises.

Days later, Augspurger got this BallotTrax email: "This is a message from Peoria County Election Commission. Your ballot for the 2020 General Election was received but cannot be counted. Please contact us."

He called the commission. Three election judges had examined his ballot signature, which did not match the registration signature on file. His vote could not be counted — or, as the commission officially puts it, there was a "challenge."

That’s weird, Augspurger thought. Then he remembered the cumbersome signature at the Driver Services Facility, which he suggested might be the cause of the challenge.

Three more judges looked into the matter. They found Augspurger’s old voter-registration form from years ago: That signature matched his ballot’s.

The challenge was off. His vote was counted.

He called me to let me know what happened, to warn others of the possibility of a challenge.

Indeed, it happens, says Tom Bride, the executive director of the Peoria County Board of Elections. On Monday, of the county’s 19,867 mailed and drop-box ballots so far, 246 have faced challenges. The county doesn’t keep a running tally of all challenges so, he says, the total is higher.

The challenges mostly involve signatures. Sometimes, voters don’t sign their ballots at all. Other challenges have been like Augspurger’s, caused by a Driver Services Facility discrepancy. Sometimes, a signature changes as a voter ages.

Or, stranger things happen. In one case, a voter appealed a challenge to Bride, who looked at the voter’s ballot scribbling and said in jest, "That looks like a doctor’s signature." The voter said, "I am a doctor. But here’s the thing: I’m trying to do better, and that signature is better than my usual signature."

That was the source of the problem: The "better" signature was different that the doc’s regular signature. Bride rectified the situation, and the vote got counted.

Meanwhile, Peoria County’s mail ballots are up 1,400% over this time in 2016. With more ballots coming in, Bride expects challenges to go up as well.

With every challenge, a voter (even if registered with BallotTrax) is contacted by phone or mail. Bridge says almost all such hold-ups get ironed out. Voters often make remarks to Bride like, "I feel so much better now, knowing there is someone looking over this."

Indeed, Augspurger was pleased to see things working out.

"I want my vote to count," he says.

Phil Luciano is a Journal Star columnist. He can be reached at pluciano@pjstar.com, facebook.com/philluciano and (309) 686-3155. Follow him on Twitter.com/LucianoPhil.

via Journal Star

October 21, 2020 at 07:08AM

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