Election Q&A: What if my absentee ballot return envelope signature doesn't match the file? Will I know if it's rejected?

Carol Thompson
Lansing State Journal

This story is part of a Lansing State Journal Q&A series about the upcoming election. Have a question about voting, polling or results? Ask it in the form at the bottom of this story. We'll get you the answer.

Q: My signature has become inconsistent since I rarely use pen and paper anymore. I'm worried this will cause problems with my absentee ballot. Will I be notified if my signature doesn't match? And do I have to include my middle name or initial?

The style of your handwriting is the most important thing, Lansing Clerk Chris Swope said.

Clerks match the signature on a voter's absentee ballot return envelope with the signature on Michigan's Qualified Voter File to make sure the person who mailed the ballot is the same person registered to vote under that name. 

It's important for those signatures to look alike.

That means you shouldn't do anything unusual with your signature on your absentee ballot return envelope.

If you don't normally sign with your middle name or initial, for example, don't add it to the envelope, Secretary of State spokesperson Tracy Wimmer said. 

"It should match your normal signature," she said.

Not sure what your normal signature looks like? For many Michiganders, there's an easy way to check. 

Take a look at your driver's license. See the signature? It's pretty likely that's the one clerks are using to verify your signature on your absentee ballot return envelope, since many Michigan voters register or update their registrations when they're at local Secretary of State offices.

What happens if my absentee ballot gets rejected because of the signature?

Clerks reject ballots if return envelopes are missing signatures or if signatures don't match the ones on file.

It's not uncommon. Of the 10,694 ballots rejected across Michigan in the August primary, 2,225 were rejected because of missing or mismatched signatures. About 1.6 million of the 2.5 million total votes cast in that election were absentee.

On Oct. 6, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Senate Bill 757, which requires Michigan clerks to notify most voters when their ballots are rejected because of a mismatched or missing signature. That notification could come by mail, telephone or email.

It's important to return absentee ballots before Election Day if you want to be extra sure your vote gets counted.

If a clerk rejects your absent voter ballot return envelope before 8 p.m. the day before Election Day — in this case, Nov. 2 — he or she must tell you within 48 hours or by 8 p.m. the day before Election Day, whichever comes first.

Voters have a few options if their ballots get rejected, Wimmer said. 

Clerks are supposed to send an identity verification form with the notice that a voter's ballot was rejected. The voter can fill out the form and return it to the clerk's office by mail, fax or email, or simply go to the clerk's office and provide a new signature there. Clerks must get the new signature or form by 8 p.m. Election Day. 

Voters also could spoil their ballot and get a new one. Written requests to spoil ballots must be received by clerks before 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. Requests can be made in person before 10 a.m. the day before Election Day. 

Learn more about spoiling ballots here. 

Call your local clerk if you have specific questions about signing your absentee ballot return envelope.

Submit your questions to the Lansing State Journal's Election Q&A series. We'll post questions and answers online at LSJ.com.