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Trump’s False Claim About Mail Ballot Signatures in Nevada

At a rally in Vandalia, Ohio, President Donald Trump falsely claimed that Nevada voters are not required to sign their mail ballots and, if they do sign them, the signatures don’t have to be verified.

The law requires mail ballots to include valid voter signatures, which must be verified by election officials. A law signed in August by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak expanding mail voting in the state did spell out in more detail than previous laws the procedures for dealing with suspect signatures and provisions for allowing voters to verify them. But it did not change the signature requirement.

Trump, Sept. 21: They have in Nevada, the governor said he signed an order that they don’t have to sign. We need no signature verification. Oh, that’s great. Because they couldn’t get people to sign, so they said, “We’ll just send them in. Don’t worry about it.” This is a real affront to our democracy. This is a horrible thing that’s going on.

This is not the first time that the president has made the false claim. For example, he also did so at the White House on Aug. 5.

Trump, Aug. 5: And don’t forget, if you look at what they’re doing in Nevada: no signature. You take a look at the signature, and there’s no verification of signature allowed. … But there’s no verification of signatures. So they don’t even know who’s going to sign this. They have literally a clause that you don’t have to verify the signatures — that they don’t have to do it.

And at a rally in Minden, Nevada, on Sept. 12, he said, “They don’t even have to have an authorized signature in Nevada.”

In a fact sheet on its website dealing with “Facts vs. Myths” about the 2020 general election, the Nevada secretary of state’s office included two entries dealing with the question of signatures.

First it dealt with what it called Myth #4: “Election officials in Nevada do not verify the voter’s signature on the ballot return envelope before the ballot is counted.”

Nevada secretary of state’s office: Signature verification is performed on every ballot received. If the signature is missing or if the signature on the ballot return envelope does not match the signature on file for the voter, the ballot will not be counted until the voter verifies their signature.

Then it turned to what it referred to as Myth #5: “The bill recently passed by the Nevada Legislature weakened Nevada’s signature verification procedures.”

Nevada secretary of state’s office: While the bill did include language detailing how signature verification must be performed, the bill simply put into law the procedure that was already being followed for signature verification. The bill did not “water down” or weaken the signature verification process.

Nevada’s new election law was a response to problems during the state’s primary in June. While that was mostly a mail-in voting election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were long lines at the small number of polling places that were kept open.

The new law stipulates that mail ballots will be sent to all active registered voters during a state of emergency or declaration of disaster like the current pandemic. So those voters will receive them for the November election.

Earlier this year, the group Democracy Docket sued Nevada over the way it dealt with signature verification for mail ballots. Many mail ballots have been rejected in the primaries this year in a number of states, including Nevada, over signature issues. The group wanted to make sure voters in such cases were notified and had an opportunity to straighten out the problem. The group, which has taken similar action in other states, did not seek a ban on signature verification.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature dealt with the issue in the broader voting bill. First, it said that, contrary to Trump’s assertion, all ballot signatures should be checked, and it spelled out when they should be challenged.

Assembly Bill 4: [W]hen a mail ballot is returned by or on behalf of a voter to the county or city clerk, as applicable, and a record of its return is made in the mail ballot record for the election, the clerk or an employee in the office of the clerk shall check the signature used for the mail ballot in accordance with the following procedure:

(a) The clerk or employee shall check the signature used for the mail ballot against all signatures of the voter available in the records of the clerk.

(b) If at least two employees in the office of the clerk believe there is a reasonable question of fact as to whether the signature used for the mail ballot matches the signature of the voter, the clerk shall contact the voter and ask the voter to confirm whether the signature used for the mail ballot belongs to the voter.

The law gives the voter until nine days after the election to straighten out the situation.

Assembly Bill 4: If the clerk determines when checking the signature used for the mail ballot that the voter failed to affix his or her signature or failed to affix it in the manner required by law for the mail ballot or that there is a reasonable question of fact as to whether the signature used for the mail ballot matches the signature of the voter, but the voter is otherwise entitled to cast the mail ballot, the clerk shall contact the voter and advise the voter of the procedures to provide a signature or a confirmation that the signature used for the mail ballot belongs to the voter, as applicable. For the mail ballot to be counted, the voter must provide a signature or a confirmation, as applicable, not later than 5 p.m. on the ninth day following the election.

The Democracy Docket suit also challenged Nevada’s ban on allowing third parties to help voters cast their mail ballots. The new election law allows third parties to help elderly and disabled voters.

After the law was enacted, Democracy Docket dropped its suit.

Trump has been an outspoken critic of mail-in voting, claiming without evidence, as we have written, that it is “fraudulent in many cases.” After the Nevada law was signed, the Trump campaign filed a suit seeking to overturn it. On Sept. 18, a federal judge dismissed the case.

On signature verification, the Trump campaign complaint focused on situations in which two ballots had been stuffed into one envelope, which the campaign argues could lead to ballots not having signatures.

Trump campaign complaint, Aug. 4: Section 25 provides that “[i]f two or more ballots are found folded together to present the appearance of a single ballot, they must be laid aside. If a majority of the inspectors are of the opinion that the mail ballots folded together were voted by one person, the mail ballots must be rejected and placed in an envelope, upon which must be written the reason for their rejection.” But Section 25 establishes no standard by which the inspectors should assess whether the ballots were voted by one person. Neither does Section 25 require inspectors to reject either of two or more ballots folded together when a majority of the inspectors are of the opinion that the mail ballots were voted by more than one person. In that case, Section 25 appears to contemplate that inspectors will count all of the ballots, even though at least one of the voters has not complied with the bill’s signature-verification process. This loophole invites fraud, coercion, theft, or otherwise illegitimate voting that dilutes the votes of honest citizens.

In her motion to dismiss the Trump complaint, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, argued that provision simply duplicates provisions of previous law, which had been on the books since 1960.

Cegavske, motion to dismiss, Aug. 10: Although it is conceivable that two persons might fold their ballots together in a single envelope and affix their signatures to the signature line of the return envelope, it is highly improbable. Indeed, the degree of probability is so low that it can scarcely qualify as an injury for purposes of Article III’s standing requirement. Accordingly, Count IV of the Complaint must be dismissed.

She described the legislation itself as making “modest changes [that] apply to an election occurring during a declared state of emergency or disaster, including the 2020 general election.”

The most recent average of polls from Real Clear Politics shows Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump in the state by six points, 46.5% to 40.5%. In 2016 Hillary Clinton won Nevada and its six electoral votesdefeating Trump by 2.4 percentage points, 47.9% to 45.5%. She was the third straight Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state.

Republicans won Nevada from 1972 through 1988. Democrat Bill Clinton carried the state twice in 1992 and 1996, as did Republican George W. Bush in 2004 and 2008.

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