BAKERSFIELD, Calif (KGET) – The first line of defense against voter fraud is your signature on your ballot envelope. That signature, or lack of it, is the most common reason ballots are challenged in Bakersfield.
17 News spoke with a handwriting analyst to understand how difficult it can be to verify someone’s signature. From what he says, Kern County Election Officials are no experts. Bart Baggett is a court qualified forensic handwriting analysis expert with over 25 years of experience.
“The term verify signatures is a little bit interesting, it’s really about handwriting analysis and identifying a human being from their handwriting,” Baggett said.
He says it takes at least two years to be able to identify someone’s handwriting and differentiate between a lazy hand and forgery.
“Alot of people in society have symbolic signatures, scribbled signatures, very short names,” Baggett said. “Those are all the variables you have to consider and I cant possibly think that somebody with four hours of training could possibly do that effectively.”
Kern County Clerk Mary Bedard, who runs the elections office, says all permanent staff received signature recognition training, but she says it only lasted a few hours and it was two years ago. This training is the standard for all election offices across California. The senior staff who took that training are the ones training new election workers. Bedard declined to be interviewed. But she said in a statement that training is adequate for what is required at the elections department.
“No one is saying that election workers in California are court certified handwriting experts,” her statement said. “They get several hours of training in signature recognition. They are simply trying to ensure that the signature compares to the signature we have on file as the means provided in the election code to provide security in the vote by mail process. We do not claim that a signature mismatch is a forgery, and we do not refer them to the District Attorney. What we refer to the District Attorney are people who attempt to vote twice.”
“There has been no certified document examiner create a training that can sufficiently train hundreds of volunteers in such a short period of time,” Baggett said. “And I’m not blaming city councils or state governments. It’s logistically very difficult to do that.”
There are other safeguards in place to check your identity. There’s a software that compares the signature on your ballot to the one on your registration. If the software says the signatures match – then an election official will also verify it. If at any point the software or an official says the signatures don’t match – a senior employee reviews it.
“We check every signature so when it comes into our office we review it and make sure it compares to the signature we have on file for that voter,” Bedard said.
Bedard says the elections office has challenged 496 ballots so far due to mismatched signatures. If your signature is challenged, the office mails you at your registered address in an attempt to clear up the uncertainty and further verify your identity.