According to data from 2020, Arkansas had the highest absentee ballot rejection rate of any state and consistently ranks low in voter turnout. Arkansas law requires election officials to reject a voter’s absentee ballot if it does not have the voter’s signature or if officials perceive a mismatch between the signature, address or the voter’s date of birth on the voter’s mail-in ballot and mail-in ballot application. Voters do not have an opportunity to fix or “cure” absentee ballots once an election official deems a ballot deficient.
The plaintiffs who brought the case argue that the signature matching process is “highly error-prone due to the wide array of physical and environmental factors that cause the appearance of an individual’s signature to vary.” Importantly, the plaintiffs asserted that “[a]lthough Arkansas does not document the racial or ethnic breakdown of absentee ballots rejected based on a signature mismatch, a report by the ACLU in Florida found higher rejection rates among Black and Hispanic voters compared to those for white voters.”
The plaintiffs argued that the challenged provisions of Arkansas’ absentee ballot rejection scheme violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying voters the right to procedural due process. Furthermore, the plaintiffs alleged that the challenged provisions violate the First and 14th Amendments by burdening the right to vote. Lastly, the plaintiffs alleged that the rejection of absentee ballots for immaterial errors — that are unrelated to a voter’s eligibility — violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act and results in disenfranchisement.
Today, a federal judge disagreed and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims. The judge found that the signature matching, address and birthdate requirements pose “only a minimal burden on the right to vote” and do not violate the Materiality Provision and therefore dismissed the plaintiffs claims, allowing the provisions to stand. Today’s decision is a loss for Arkansas voters whose mail-in ballots could be canceled due to small immaterial errors.