Lawsuit filed by League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Latino Community Fund and an individual voter against members of the Benton County, Yakima County and Chelan County Canvassing Review Boards challenging the boards’ signature verification practices for mail-in ballots. Washington elections have taken place almost exclusively through mail since 2013, after the state passed a law replacing existing election practices and mandating all counties conduct their elections by mail. Mail-in ballots are verified by matching signatures on the ballot envelope to the signature on file in a voter’s registration records. A county canvassing board member evaluates signatures by comparing style, general appearance, letter proportions and unique spacing, slants or letter sizing. When a mail-in ballot is flagged for a signature mismatch, the ballot cannot be counted until the voter corrects or cures it.
The lawsuit argues that the defendants have no standards employed for ballot reviewers in determining when handwriting on a ballot matches the handwriting on file in voter registration records. The plaintiffs allege that this lack of clarity for untrained ballot reviewers disproportionately affects Latino voters and voters with Spanish last names. The plaintiffs claim that over 4,500 Latino voters in Washington were denied their right to vote in the 2020 primary, general and special elections due to the defendants’ discriminatory application of Washington’s ballot signature matching processes.
The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the counties’ signature verification practices as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs also ask the court to mandate that the defendants adopt a training manual approved by appropriate experts, create standards for determining matching signatures, design a system for voters to cure a ballot with a mismatched signature in a timely manner and publish a list of rejected ballots after each election by race of the voter and voter precinct.
The plaintiffs reached a settlement with Benton and Chelan Counties in October 2023, and Yakima County in December 2023. Under the settlement, the counties must conduct mandatory signature verification training for county auditor election staff and county election staff must complete cultural competency training every two years. The settlement also requires that ballot materials include language on a ballot’s security sleeve that outlines signature verification requirements, cure processes and other terms.