Federal appeals court upholds Tennessee signature match requirement for absentee voters3 min read

– By Kunjan Jogdand

Tennessee’s method of matching the electors’ signatures to the ballots by mail was confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeals on Thursday.

The decision casts doubt about the potential of the claimants to bring about a reform in the process in time for the November general election, while the lawsuit remains pending in the federal district court.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday affirmed the decision of the lower court to block an order that would force the state to amend the manner in which it informed the voters of problems related to the verification of their signatures on the ballot.

The appeal was brought in a federal lawsuit against state election authorities, one of many in various courts that have concentrated more on e-mail voting in Tennessee since May.

Federal District Judge Eli J. Richardson worked with some of the issues in the original case mainly on an individual basis.

Thursday ‘s opinion by the appeals court concentrated solely on part of two of the arguments related to the present federal case.

Advocates contend that the Tennessee method of checking the electors’ signatures on their ballots is faulty. They argue that the new method of signature matching leaves too much room for human error, generating a probability of inappropriate rejection. They also claim that, without timely notice of the denial, certain electors would not be informed of a concern in order to address the problems.

They are calling for a policy that provides prompt notice of electors if their votes are denied.

Caleb Jackson, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that, if he submits his ballot the day before the election, there is nothing that ensures Tennessee needs to let me know that his ballot was rejected before the election is over and before he can vote again.

While voters who are worried that their ballot may be rejected may file a provisional ballot on election day to be counted in its place, the plaintiffs contend that it is inadequate to guarantee constitutional access to the vote if it is not informed in due time that the question has been posed with the signature.

The state argued that the revision of the scheme before the elections in August or November would be so difficult as to make it unlikely. They also argued that the limited number of invalid ballots in recent elections is evidence that there are too few genuinely damaged votes to make an argument.

Several groups dealing with the right to vote in the state have brought the case. the same include the Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Equity Alliance, Free Hearts, the Memphis AFL-CIO central labour Council and the NAACP Tennessee division.

Hargett, Elections Coordinator Mark Goins and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich are named defendants.

Richardson disagreed with the state on a motion for a temporary order compelling the state to change the procedure while the litigation was pending and to refuse it. The appellant’s appeal was dismissed in Thursday’s decision.

“Plaintiffs, for their part, insist that Tennessee’s training is more likely to produce erroneous signature verification determinations than to accurately reject ballots that do not have a genuine signature,” wrote Circuit Judge Julio Smith Gibbons in the majority opinion. 

Not all judges agreed with the ruling of the court, when Judge Karen Moore objected. In her dissent, Moore argued that “today’s majority opinion is yet another chapter in the concentrated effort to restrict the vote.” As a result of Thursday’s ruling, “Tennessee is free to and will disenfranchise hundreds, if not thousands, of its voters who cast their absentee ballots by mail.”

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