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SB-503 Voting: signature verification. (2021-2022)

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Date Published: 02/17/2021 09:00 PM
SB503:v99#DOCUMENT


CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Senate Bill
No. 503


Introduced by Senator Becker

February 17, 2021


An act to amend Section 3019 of the Elections Code, relating to voting.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 503, as introduced, Becker. Voting: signature verification.
Existing law requires an elections official, upon receiving a vote by mail ballot, to verify the signature on the identification envelope by comparing it with the signature on specified records within the voter’s registration record. Existing law requires the elections official, if the signatures do not match, to provide a voter the opportunity to verify the voter’s signature by signing and returning a signature verification statement or an unsigned ballot statement, which the elections official will use instead to compare signatures. Existing law requires an elections official to use the same procedures for comparing signatures for provisional ballots that are used for comparing signatures for vote by mail ballots. Existing law requires the Secretary of State to promulgate guidelines for county elections officials relating to the foregoing provisions.
This bill would (1) apply a presumption, for purposes of the comparison of signatures in the voter’s registration record, that the signature on an identification envelope, signature verification statement, unsigned ballot statement, or provisional ballot envelope, is the voter’s signature; (2) specify that an exact signature is not required for an elections official to determine that the signature is valid and the fact that signatures share similar characteristics is sufficient to determine the signature is valid; and, (3) prohibit an elections official from reviewing or considering a voter’s party preference, race, or ethnicity, when comparing signatures. The bill would also require an elections official comparing signatures, including when the official uses signature verification software or other technology, to adhere to applicable regulations promulgated by the Secretary of State.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: NO   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Section 3019 of the Elections Code is amended to read:

3019.
 (a) (1) Upon receiving a vote by mail ballot, the elections official shall compare the signature on the identification envelope with either of the following to determine if the signatures compare:
(A) The signature appearing on the voter’s affidavit of registration or any previous affidavit of registration of the voter.
(B) The signature appearing on a form issued by an elections official that contains the voter’s signature and that is part of the voter’s registration record.
(2) All of the following apply to the comparison of signatures pursuant to this section:
(A) A presumption exists that the signature on the identification envelope, signature verification statement, unsigned ballot statement, or provisional ballot envelope is the voter’s signature.
(B) An exact match is not required for an elections official to determine that a voter’s signature is valid. The fact that signatures share similar characteristics is sufficient to determine that a signature is valid.
(C) When comparing signatures, an elections official shall not review or consider a voter’s party preference, race, or ethnicity.

(2)In comparing signatures pursuant to this section, the

(D) The elections official may use facsimiles of voters’ signatures, provided that the method of preparing and displaying the facsimiles complies with the law.

(3)

(E) In comparing signatures pursuant to this section, an elections official may use signature verification technology. If signature verification technology determines that the signatures do not compare, the elections official shall visually examine the signatures and verify that the signatures do not compare.

(4)

(F) The variation of a signature caused by the substitution of initials for the first or middle name, or both, is not grounds for the elections official to determine that the signatures do not compare.
(b) If upon conducting the comparison of signatures pursuant to subdivision (a) the elections official determines that the signatures compare, the elections official shall deposit the ballot, still in the identification envelope, in a ballot container in the elections official’s office.
(c) If upon conducting the comparison of signatures pursuant to subdivision (a) the elections official determines that the signatures do not compare, the identification envelope shall not be opened and the ballot shall not be counted. The elections official shall write the cause of the rejection on the face of the identification envelope only after completing the procedures described in subdivision (d).
(d) (1) A minimum of eight days prior to the certification of the election, the elections official shall provide notice to all voters identified pursuant to subdivision (c) of the opportunity to verify their signatures no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to the certification of the election.
(2) The notice and instructions shall be in substantially the following form:
“READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY. FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS MAY CAUSE YOUR VOTE BY MAIL BALLOT NOT TO COUNT.
1. We have determined that the signature you provided on your vote by mail ballot does not match the signature(s) on file in your voter record. In order to ensure that your vote by mail ballot will be counted, the signature verification statement must be completed and returned as soon as possible.
2. The signature verification statement must be received by the elections official of the county where you are registered to vote no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to certification of the election.
3. You must sign your name where specified on the signature verification statement (Voter’s Signature).
4. Place the signature verification statement into a mailing envelope addressed to your local elections official. Mail, deliver, or have the completed statement delivered to the elections official. Be sure there is sufficient postage if mailed and that the address of the elections official is correct.
5. If you do not wish to send the signature verification statement by mail or have it delivered, you may submit your completed statement by email or facsimile transmission to your local elections official, or submit your completed statement to a polling place within the county or a ballot dropoff box before the close of the polls on election day.”
(3) The notice and instructions shall be translated in all languages required in that county by Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (52 U.S.C. Sec. 10503).
(4) The elections official shall not reject a vote by mail ballot identified pursuant to subdivision (c) if each of the following conditions is satisfied:
(A) The voter delivers, in person, by mail, by fax, or by email, a signature verification statement signed by the voter and the elections official receives the statement no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to the certification of the election, or the voter, before the close of the polls on election day, completes and submits a signature verification statement to a polling place within the county or a ballot dropoff box.
(B) Upon receipt of the signature verification statement, the elections official shall compare the signature on the statement with the signature on file in the voter’s record.
(i) If upon conducting the comparison of signatures the elections official determines that the signatures compare, the elections official shall deposit the ballot, still in the identification envelope, in a ballot container in the elections official’s office.
(ii) If upon conducting the comparison of the signatures the elections official determines that the signatures do not compare, the identification envelope shall not be opened and the ballot shall not be counted. The elections official shall write the cause of the rejection on the face of the identification envelope.
(5) The signature verification statement shall be in substantially the following form and may be included on the same page as the notice and instructions specified in paragraph (2):
“SIGNATURE VERIFICATION STATEMENT
I,, am a registered voter of __________ County,
State of California. I declare under penalty of perjury that I requested and returned a vote by mail ballot. I am a resident of the precinct in which I have voted, and I am the person whose name appears on the vote by mail ballot envelope. I understand that if I commit or attempt any fraud in connection with voting, or if I aid or abet fraud or attempt to aid or abet fraud in connection with voting, I may be convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years. I understand that my failure to sign this statement means that my vote by mail ballot will be invalidated.
Voter’s Signature
Address”
(6) An elections official shall include the vote by mail ballot signature verification statement and instructions provided in this subdivision on the elections official’s internet website and shall provide the elections official’s mailing address, email address, and facsimile transmission number on the internet web page containing the statement and instructions.
(7) If the elections official determines that the signatures compare, the official shall use the signature in the signature verification statement, even if returned untimely, to update the voter’s signature for future elections.
(e) (1) (A) Notwithstanding any other law, if an elections official determines that a voter has failed to sign the identification envelope, the elections official shall not reject the vote by mail ballot if the voter does any of the following:
(i) Signs the identification envelope at the office of the elections official during regular business hours no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to the certification of the election.
(ii) No later than 5 p.m. two days prior the certification of the election, completes and submits an unsigned ballot statement in substantially the following form:
“UNSIGNED BALLOT STATEMENT
I,, am a registered voter of __________ County,
State of California. I declare under penalty of perjury that I requested and returned a vote by mail ballot and that I have not and will not vote more than one ballot in this election. I am a resident of the precinct in which I have voted, and I am the person whose name appears on the vote by mail ballot envelope. I understand that if I commit or attempt any fraud in connection with voting, or if I aid or abet fraud or attempt to aid or abet fraud in connection with voting, I may be convicted of a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or two or three years. I understand that my failure to sign this statement means that my vote by mail ballot will be invalidated.
Voter’s Signature
Address”
(iii) Before the close of the polls on election day, completes and submits an unsigned ballot statement, in the form described in clause (ii), to a polling place within the county or a ballot dropoff box.
(B) A minimum of eight days prior to the certification of the election, the elections official shall provide notice and instructions to all voters identified pursuant to this subdivision of the opportunity to provide a signature no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to the certification of the election.
(C) If timely submitted, the elections official shall accept any completed unsigned ballot statement. Upon receipt of the unsigned ballot statement, the elections official shall compare the voter’s signature on the statement in the manner provided by this section.
(i) If the elections official determines that the signatures compare, the elections official shall attach the unsigned ballot statement to the identification envelope and deposit the ballot, still in the identification envelope, in a ballot container in the elections official’s office.
(ii) If the elections official determines that the signatures do not compare, the identification envelope shall not be opened and the elections official shall provide notice to the voter pursuant to subdivisions (c) and (d).
(D) An elections official may use methods other than those described in subparagraph (A) to obtain a voter’s signature on an unsigned identification envelope.
(2) Instructions shall accompany the unsigned ballot statement in substantially the following form:

“READ THESE INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY BEFORE COMPLETING THE STATEMENT. FAILURE TO FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS MAY CAUSE YOUR BALLOT NOT TO COUNT.


1. In order to ensure that your vote by mail ballot will be counted, your statement should be completed and returned as soon as possible, but no later than 5 p.m. two days prior to the certification of the election.
2. You must sign your name on the line above (Voter’s Signature).
3. Place the statement into a mailing envelope addressed to your local elections official. Mail, deliver, or have delivered the completed statement to the elections official. Be sure there is sufficient postage if mailed and that the address of the elections official is correct.
4. If you do not wish to send the statement by mail or have it delivered, you may submit your completed statement by facsimile or email transmission to your local elections official, or submit your completed statement to a polling place within the county or a ballot dropoff box before the close of the polls on election day.”
(3) The notice and instructions shall be translated in all languages required in that county by Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (52 U.S.C. Sec. 10503).
(4) An elections official shall include the unsigned ballot statement and instructions described in this subdivision on the elections official’s internet website and shall provide the elections official’s mailing address, email address, and facsimile transmission number on the internet web page containing the statement and instructions.
(f) A ballot shall not be removed from its identification envelope until the time for processing ballots. A ballot shall not be rejected for cause after the identification envelope has been opened.
(g) In comparing signatures pursuant to this section, including when using signature verification software or other technology, an elections official shall adhere to all applicable regulations promulgated by the Secretary of State.