FAYETTEVILLE, AR—Today, the League of Women Voters of Arkansas filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that the state offer a notice and cure process for voters whose ballots are marked for rejection due to signature-related issues.
“Arkansas voters could have confidence that their vote would count if there were a process for fixing issues when their ballots are marked for rejection,” said Nell Matthews, president of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. “With the surge in absentee ballots this year because of COVID-19, many of our most vulnerable voters are at risk of disenfranchisement without a notice and cure protection. No one should have their vote thrown out due to a technicality of a signature error or mismatch.”
Over 15,000 absentee ballots were rejected in the state’s 2018 general election. Voters were not notified of their ballot rejection until after the election had occurred, and many voters were not given an opportunity to remedy the issue, meaning their votes simply did not count. With the number of absentee ballots expected to surge this year due to the threat of COVID-19, there is a potential for thousands more ballot rejections.
“As voters choose to cast their ballots via mail at increased rates this year, many states are evaluating their verification and rejection processes to make them fairer to voters,” said Dr. Deborah Ann Turner, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Establishing a notice and cure process is a commonsense solution to ensure more voter participation and promote voter confidence. Arkansas should follow the lead of many states across the country to implement this change to protect voters.”
The plaintiffs note that a newly instated signature match notification process would not represent a large burden for election officials, as Arkansas already notifies voters of photo ID issues with their absentee ballots. Plaintiffs are represented by Lawyers' Committee, Debevoise & Plimpton, and local expert counsel David A. Couch and Preston Eldridge.
“There is a wide range of physical and environmental factors that can cause someone’s signature to vary, but this does not mean their vote should be discounted,” said John Powers, counsel at the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The failure to give voters notice and an opportunity to correct these inconsistencies means that eligible voters will be disenfranchised. These protections are more important given the increased reliance on absentee voting in the November election and with just weeks to go, we are turning to the courts for relief.”
“The right to vote is fundamental, and we are collaborating with the Lawyers Committee and the League on this litigation to ensure that everyone’s vote is counted,” said David W. Rivkin, a litigation partner at Debevoise & Plimpton.
“This complaint seeks to make sure that the voice of every absentee voter is heard and not disregarded,” said Little Rock attorney David A. Couch. “I am proud to join the League again as a partner in defending the rights of the many Arkansans who could benefit from what we hope will be a positive ruling in this case."
League of Women Voters of Arkansas v. Thurston was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.
A federal judge ruled in the League of Women Voters of North Carolina’s case that the North Carolina State Board of Elections must provide a notice and cure process for absentee ballots marked for rejection.