top of page

Sign, Sign, Everywhere You Sign: A Texan’s Guide to Signature Verification Laws for Mail-In Ballots

Garrett Littlejohn

Staff Reporter (2023–2024)


A person’s signature plays an essential role in everyday life; from driver’s licenses and receipts to loans and leases, people use signatures to verify their identity and commit to legal obligations.¹ Come election season, many Texans will be relying on their signatures to apply for and authenticate mail-in ballots. But if an election official decides that a mail-in voter’s signature on their ballot doesn’t match their mail-in ballot application, the voter could lose their opportunity to participate in the election altogether.² Understanding the mail-in ballot application, submission, and evaluation process can help a voter protect their rights when their ballot is rejected due to a mismatched signature.

 

How does a Texas citizen vote by mail?

Voting by mail can be a useful tool for some citizens who may have trouble getting to in-person voting locations. To vote by mail in Texas, a Texas citizen must be: 65 years or older; sick or disabled; expecting to give birth within three weeks of election day; out of the county of residence on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or confined to jail, but otherwise eligible to vote.³

 

If a citizen meets one or more of those criteria, the first step is to submit an application for a ballot. That application form can be obtained online, from the office of the Texas Secretary of State, or from the early voting clerk in the county where the citizen is registered to vote. The citizen then submits the application—which requires the applicant’s signature—to the citizen’s early voting clerk. For the application to be valid, the early voting clerk must receive the application before the close of business or by noon, whichever is later, on the eleventh day before election day. That application can be submitted by in-person delivery, regular mail, common or contract carrier, fax, or email.

 

If the application is approved, the early voting clerk will mail a ballot to the citizen. Finally, it’s time to vote: once the citizen receives their ballot in the mail, they must complete all the fields on the ballot and ensure that the early voting clerk receives the ballot no later than 5:00 PM on election day (or by the fifth day after the election if the citizen is voting from abroad).¹⁰ Importantly, the citizen is required to sign the outside of the envelope in which the ballot is submitted, which the early voting clerk provides.¹¹

 

What’s the history behind Texas signature-verification laws?

There is a good reason why voters must sign their ballot and application. Election officials use those signatures to confirm the identity of mail-in voters, helping ensure the security of the election.¹² The process for doing so involves painstakingly comparing a voter’s signature on their mail-in ballot envelopes to the same voter’s signature on their application.¹³ Counties often create special committees to complete this process called Signature Verification Committees (SVC).¹⁴

 

In the past, the verification methods that SVCs employed were informal and varied from county to county.¹⁵ There was no training required for SVC members, and Texas law did not prescribe standards for the signature-comparison process.¹⁶ Voters usually had no opportunity to fix their ballots if the SVC found a mismatch; Texas law required only that the voter be notified of their ballot’s rejection within ten days after election day.¹⁷ During the 2016 and 2018 general elections, Texas counties rejected at least 5,313 ballots because the signature on the ballot did not match the mail-in ballot application.¹⁸

 

In 2020, however, two disgruntled Texans, joined by four election advocacy organizations, argued in a lawsuit that the signature-comparison procedures in Texas—or lack thereof—were unconstitutional.¹⁹ Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia agreed, concluding that the signature verification process in Texas was “inherently fraught with error” and that voters were provided “no meaningful opportunity to cure improperly rejected ballots.”²⁰ Accordingly, Judge Garcia ordered the Texas Secretary of State to implement plans to remedy the signature verification process.²¹ And although the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals subsequently stayed Judge Garcia’s order, the stage was set for real change.²²

 

Where do the Texas signature verification laws stand today?

The state legislature passed a group of laws in 2023 that addressed the concerns of Texas voters by standardizing SVC procedures, mandating training for committee members, and setting new requirements for giving voters an opportunity to correct rejected mail-in ballots.²³

 

Today, Texas voters are entitled to a prompt notification—within two days of rejection—when an SVC rejects their ballot.²⁴ That notification could be by mail, telephone call, or email, and it must include a description of the issue along with a “corrective action form.”²⁵ At that point, the voter can decide whether to cancel their ballot or verify their signature.²⁶

 

Verifying the signature involves submitting the corrective action form by mail, online through the Texas Secretary of State’s Ballot by Mail Tracker, or in-person at the voter’s local early voting clerk’s office.²⁷ If the voter chooses to submit the form in-person, the last day to do so is the sixth day after the election.²⁸ Either way, it is imperative that the voter submit the corrective action form as soon as possible to avoid disqualification.²⁹

 

The era of unorganized and opaque signature-verification processes is increasingly in the past. When voting by mail, being accurate and truthful on all of the documents submitted to the early voting clerk’s office is essential. Thankfully, Texans can sleep a little sounder knowing that if there is a mistake on their forms, their voice still has an opportunity to be heard.

 

Sources:

[1] Adobe Document Cloud Team, When are signatures legally relevant?, Adobe Blog: Future of Work (July 29, 2021), https://blog.adobe.com/en/publish/2021/07/29/when-are-signatures-legally-relevant.

[2] Tex. Sec’y of State Election Advisory No. 2023-13, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2023-13.shtml.

[3] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 82.001–82.004.

[4] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 84.001.

[5] VoteTexas.Gov, Application for a Ballot by Mail, https://www.votetexas.gov/voting-by-mail/application-for-ballot-by-mail.html (last visited Feb. 4, 2024).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 86.003–86.004.

[10] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 86.005, 86.007.

[11] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 86.002(a).

[12] Tex. Sec’y of State Election Advisory No. 2023-13, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2023-13.shtml.

[13] Id.

[14] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 87.027.

[15] Richardson v. Tex. Sec’y of State, 485 F. Supp. 3d 744, 752–53 (W.D. Tex. 2020).

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 783.

[18] Id. at 753.

[19] Id. at 751.

[20] Id. at 791.

[21] Id. at 812.

[22] See Richardson v. Tex. Sec’y of State, 978 F.3d 220, 224 (5th Cir. 2020).

[23] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §§ 87.027–87.028.

[24] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 87.0271(b).

[25] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 87.0271(b-1).

[27] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 87.0271(c), (e-1)(2); Tex. Sec’y of State Election Advisory No. 2023-13, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2023-13.shtml.

[28] Tex. Elec. Code Ann. § 87.0271(b-1).

[29] Tex. Sec’y of State Election Advisory No. 2023-13, https://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/laws/advisory2023-13.shtml.

Comments


S U B S C R I B E

  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • YouTube

Thanks for subscribing!

AL Logo.png

Accessible Law

bottom of page