A lawsuit was filed in federal court today to ensure that the expected surge of absentee ballots in November doesn’t lead to mass disqualifications of ballots because of the election day signature check and inability of voters to correct minor errors.

Here’s the news release announcing the lawsuit:

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Arkansas’ requirements for acceptable absentee ballots are unconstitutional,
and must immediately be corrected before the November election, a lawsuit filed today against Secretary of State John Thurston and several members of the State Broad of Election Commissioners argues. The suit claims that Arkansas’ signature match requirement, and the lack of an effective notice and cure process, violate’ voters due process rights and will erroneously disenfranchise eligible voters in the November 2020 election.

The litigation, League of Women Voter of Arkansas v. Thurston, was filed today in U.S. District Court in the Western District of Arkansas.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, as well as local counsel David Couch and Preston Eldridge are representing the League of Women Voters of Arkansas, as well as two registered voters who intend to vote by absentee ballot.

Arkansas election law requires election officials to reject any ballot that is missing a voters’ signature. If an official perceives there is a difference between the signature, address, or date-of- birth on the voters’ absentee ballot and absentee ballot application materials, those ballots are disqualified as well. Voters affected by these mismatches do not receive an opportunity to remedy the differences, or any notice that their ballot has been rejected until after election day.

Arkansas officials do not begin reviewing the absentee ballots until Election Day. The plaintiffs are asking officials to begin matching the information on voters’ absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications earlier – 15 days before the election – and to provide voters with notice and a chance to fix any discrepancies, and to do so by the most efficient way possible.

“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.”

“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 small signature error or mismatch.”

The corrective measures the Lawyers’ Committee is seeking are minimal, and can easily be achieved before the November election. Arkansas is expected to see a record-breaking number of people cast their vote by absentee ballot, but that does not mean a record-breaking number of people should be disenfranchised.

“The complaint seeks to make sure the voice of everyone who votes absentee is heard and not disregarded,” said Arkansas Attorney David Couch.

“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.

We’ve reported before on prepartion by the Republican Party of Arkansas to mount challenges of absentee ballots, particularly in Democratic heavy Pulaski County. There are apparent plans for unprecedented monitoring of the ballot match check on election day, suspected by Democrats to be a strategy to disqualify likely Democratic voters. Success in this lawsuit would give people time to answer any challenges that could otherwise disqualify a ballot on election day.

From a League of Women Voters release:

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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.