Bringing The World Home To You

© 2024 WUNC North Carolina Public Radio
120 Friday Center Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
919.445.9150 | 800.962.9862
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Signature verification pilot behind schedule in North Carolina

An election worker prepares an absentee ballot request at the Wake County Board of Elections office in Raleigh on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.
Jonathon Gruenke
for WUNC
An election worker prepares an absentee ballot request at the Wake County Board of Elections office in Raleigh on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

The search for a suitable software program to verify absentee voters' signatures has proven more difficult than expected, according to a North Carolina State Board of Elections official.

The Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly passed sweeping elections legislation last year. One expansive law required a pilot program for signature verification, comparing an absentee voter's signature on record with the signature from their mail-in ballot envelope.

"Presumably it would be the signature that we have on file from the voter when they registered to vote," explained Paul Cox, general counsel with the State Board of Elections.

The GOP-backed law also required the elections board to report back to the General Assembly on May 1, now less than three weeks away.

"So, the thing we're trying to work through," Cox told WUNC, "is finding a vendor who can turn around a solution in rapid time so that we can report results of this pilot program to the General Assembly as soon as possible."

Cox said an initial procurement process started last year failed to turn up any vendors that could meet North Carolina's requirements or do so in the requested time frame.

North Carolina officials looked at signature verification programs used in other states like Arizona, California, and Michigan; but programs must be tailored to a state's specific needs. Cox explained that the storage of voter records, the design of mail-in ballot envelopes and other administrative details differ from state to state.

"You know," he continued, "where a signature resides, is it going to be on the outside of an envelope, how big is that envelope? What kind of machines are you going to need to scan the envelopes with the signatures on them?"

Cox said that after starting a new expedited procurement process, the elections board is closing in on an agreement with a vendor but waiting for the state Department of Information Technology to sign off.

"We're talking about voters' signatures here, so we want to make sure we procure a system that is secure," Cox added.

Initially, in early drafts of the legislation, signature verification would have been implemented statewide for immediate use this year. But Democrats persuaded GOP leadership to scale back to a 10-county-wide pilot that would not be used to disqualify any votes.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have expressed concern that people's signatures change over time and that such technology could get valid votes tossed out.

Republicans have pushed their law changes as needed to bolster election integrity in North Carolina despite there being no evidence voter fraud occurs on a scale that affects outcomes.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
More Stories