Election 2020: Chatham man's mail-in ballot rejected for mismatched signature, but rejections can be appealed

Chicago early voting by mail rejections due to signatures less than 1%, election board says
CHICAGO (WLS) -- When a Chatham man's ballot was rejected because of his signature, he reached out to the I-Team to get answers and make sure his appeal could be accepted.

Marcus Waller said he received a rejection notice because his mail-in ballot signature didn't match what the Chicago Board of Elections had in their system. He called the I-Team for help, fearing time would run out for his appeal before Election Day.

"This election is very important to me," he said.

Waller was relieved to learn he could vote by mail for the 2020 election.

"I don't feel comfortable in crowds nowadays with the pandemic," he said. "I felt like social distancing in a voting line wasn't feasible for me."

The retired postal worker said he felt confident in the vote by mail process, so he applied online, received his ballot, voted and mailed it off.

But about two weeks later, Waller said he was informed by email that his ballot was rejected because the signature on the ballot did not match what the Chicago Board of Elections had on file.

Waller said his signature has evolved over the years, and isn't sure exactly which one they have on file.

"It may be from when I was living in Hyde Park, but that was back in the '90s," he said.

He said his signature has been an issue in past elections, but he has always been able to get it cleared in person.

"I show my ID and my voter registration card, and I never had a problem," he explained. "It was rectified right then and there with the poll workers. They say, OK, that's Marcus, no problem."

Waller said he appealed his ballot rejection, but got worried when he didn't hear back so he called the ABC7 I-Team for help.

The I-Team asked Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, about the rules on ballot signature. She replied, in part, "Your signature is matched to the one on file with the Board -- whether you registered to vote in 2020 or 1950 -- we have a signature on file."

She said the signature on file is either what you signed when you registered to vote, what you signed when you changed your name or address, or what you signed when you applied for a vote by mail ballot.

For vote by mail, Hernandez said a team of three judges who have been trained by a handwriting expert review your ballot's signature. She said in the rare case there is a question about a signature match, the judges must unanimously rule that the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file. In that case, it is rejected.

The chairwoman said the voter then receives an email or letter with instructions on how to restore their signature.

In Waller's case, the Board of Elections said his appeal was received and his ballot has been approved.

Waller received an email confirming his ballot was counted that same day. The board apologized for the delayed response.

He said he's glad he didn't give up, and is thankful he voted early.

"These are just very trying times and this election means something to me," he explained. "I want to be able to know that my vote counted, and that I stood for something in this election."

The Chicago Board of Elections says ballot rejections due to mismatched signatures are less than 1%. For security reasons, voters cannot view the signature on file with the board.

To learn more about common Chicago vote by mail problems and solutions, visit the Chicago Board of Elections Vote by Mail resource page.

If you are a Cook County voter and would like to vote by mail, click here for resources.

Full statement from Marisel Hernandez, Chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners:

Whether you decide to Vote By Mail, Early Vote, or Vote on Election Day, Chicago is proud to make voting easy, safe, and accessible for everyone.

Your signature is matched to the one on file with the Board - whether you registered to vote in 2020 or 1950 - we have a signature on file. The signature on file is either:

- What you signed when you registered to vote
- What you signed when you changed your name/address
- What you signed when you applied for a Vote by Mail ballot

For VBM, the Board receives your ballot envelope and a team of three judges who have been trained by a handwriting expert review your signature. In the rare case that there is a question about a signature match, the judges must unanimously rule that the signature on the envelope does not match the signature on file. In that case, the signature is rejected. This happens in less than 1% of cases.

The voter then receives an email or a letter advising the voter of the issue and provide instructions to rehabilitate that signature. The Election Code permits a voter to submit a statement that he or she is in fact the voter who submitted the ballot. All the voter has to do is send the statement along with their name, address and Voter ID number to the address indicated. The voter can easily appeal the judges' decision via U.S. mail or, if the voter provided an email address, via email. It is very easy and convenient.

We try to advise voters that when they sign the ballot envelope they should try to sign the way they did when they last submitted their signature to the Board. For security purposes, a voter cannot check his or her own signature online. The safety and security of voter information is paramount.
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