State of Washington

Washington Signature Matching Challenge (Vet Voice)

Vet Voice Foundation v. Hobbs

Lawsuit filed by the Vet Voice Foundation, The Washington Bus, El Centro de la Raza and three voters against Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs (D), the director of elections in King County, Washington and multiple members of the King County Canvassing Board challenging the state’s use of signature matching (the process by which election officials compare a voter’s signature on a mail-in ballot envelope to that on file with election officials). The plaintiffs allege that the signature matching process “is an inherently fraught endeavor” as even “highly trained writing analysts who have at their disposal the latest tools and the luxury of time make mistakes.” The plaintiffs further argue that the faulty, error-prone and arbitrary signature matching process can lead to unjust disenfranchisement since voters whose signatures are not verified “are not always able to take the additional steps demanded by the state to prove their identity, even if they want to.”

Specifically, the complaint notes that certain voters — including those “deployed overseas in the military, citizens traveling abroad, voters temporarily out of state, voters in remote locations without access to email or phone service, or those with disabilities that make consistent signatures difficult or impossible, and those without the time or funds to devote to justifying their right to vote,” including minority voters — are particularly vulnerable to being disenfranchised as a result of the signature matching process. The plaintiffs also claim that Washington state has already rejected 36,000 ballots cast in the 2022 midterm elections as a result of signature matching.

Moreover, the plaintiffs underscore the fact that “fraud” is exceptionally rare, the state has many other “safeguards against fraud already in place” and the state’s “Signature Matching Procedure[s] are not effective at catching rare instances of potential fraud.” According to the complaint, these facts lend further credence to the assertion that the process “disenfranchises tens of thousands of voters for no discernable benefit.” The plaintiffs assert that the state has no “compelling interest” in retaining the signature matching process and contend that without judicial relief, thousands of Washington voters will be disenfranchised in violation of multiple provisions of the state constitution. They ultimately ask the court to declare the signature matching process in violation of the Washington Constitution and to “permanently [prohibit] Washington election officials from using the Signature Matching Procedure for a purpose other than confirming that the return envelope has been signed.”

In February 2023, the court denied the Republican National Committee and the Washington State Republican Party’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit. In an October 2023 order, the court denied both the plaintiffs and the defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

Subsequently, the trial court granted the defendants’ request to certify two questions to the state Supreme Court for resolution before proceeding with the litigation: 1) What is the appropriate standard of judicial review for plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges to the state’s signature matching law? and 2) Whether, under the appropriate standard of judicial review, any party is entitled to summary judgment?

In January 2024, the Washington Supreme Court agreed to take up the appeal to resolve these questions.

Case Documents (trial court)

Case Documents (wa supreme court)

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