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Online Registration Causes Signature Matching Issue for Mail Ballots in Sonoma County, Solano County Not Affected

Some votes will count and some will not, for people in Sonoma County who registered online and sent in mail ballots. It's not known if problem is statewide, however Solano County is not affected by this issue

Whenever a change is made to the voting or registration process, election officials anticipate there could be an issue that arises.

In California's first election in which people were able to register online to vote, there is a problem matching signatures on some mail ballots with the DMV signatures used for online registrants, according to Sonoma County Registrar of Voters, Janice Atkinson.

"Some votes will count and some will not," Atkinson told Patch at Election Central in Santa Rosa today.

But this doesn't seem to be a problem in nearyby Solano County according to John Gardner of the Solano County Registrar's Office.

He said that about 40 of the roughly 60,000 mail-in ballots were unable to be counted, with about 80 percent of that number linked to "no signatures."

"The number of people who registered online for mail ballots was so small that it won't make a lot of difference this time," said Atkinson of the Sonoma Registrar of Voters Office. "But unless this improves, it will be a problem over time."

Atkinson said there have been 410 mail ballots received in Sonoma County as of 3 p.m. today that had a "signature no match" problem. By Monday, 120,000 mail ballots had been received.

When people use Department of Motor Vehicle services, they sometimes sign on an electronic pad, similar to a credit card machine, and DMV sends those signatures to counties throughout California, she said.

"We have signatures stored in our records for every registered voter in the county," Atkinson said.

When a mail ballot is received, a machine takes a quick snapshot of the signature on the back of its envelope and it is compared with the signature on file with the Registrar. Usually, the verification is the signature from the Voter Registration Form but for people who registered online this year, the electronic DMV signature is being used to verify the envelope signature.

Some of the differences are startling, as shown to Patch. No examples can be shown here for privacy and security reasons. In some cases, the two signatures look nothing like each other.

"If we're lucky, there's at least one letter in the signature that really stands out and can at least be identified in the signature on the mail ballot," Atkinson said.

Part of the problem could be that some people did not sign the envelope which enclosed their mail ballot. Instead, they may have had a family member sign the envelope for them.

"That's not allowed," Atkinson said. "It's ok to have someone drop off the ballot for you, but you have to sign the envelope first."

Another reason for the discrepancy is that many signatures in DMV records have been there for years and a person's signature may have changed over time, due to advanced age, for example.

Atkinson said she has notified the Secretary of State's office. She has been told they haven't heard of this happening in other parts of California yet.

"But we're out in the field, so we see it first," she said.

Atkinson said she's not familiar with DMV's equipment so she wouldn't know whether it would be statewide or not or where the problem may lie.

As mail ballots arrived before Election Day, Sonoma County Registrar of Voters was able to mail the voters in question a form to complete with their signature for verification. Then staff switched to phone calls and they are still making phone calls today. If there's a problem with signature verification voters can either go to the Registrar of Voters office to solve it or go to a polling location and vote with a provisional ballot.

Atkinson said she doesn't know yet whether this is a problem in other states.

"We'll all talk about it at some point," she said of the various Registrars.

"There's always something, every time there's a change," she said.

Atkinson has worked for Sonoma County Registrar of Voters for 40 years.

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