Federal Judge P.K. Holmes today denied a request for an injunction to require election officials in Arkansas to notify absentee voters their ballots had been put aside because of signatures that didn’t match records on file and give them a chance to correct the problem.

The lawsuit by the League of Women Voters said a lack of an opportunity to challenge such decisions was a denial of due process. Under existing law, voters whose ballots are denied in a signature match don’t know this until after the election.

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Because of the increased absentee voting during the pandemic, the lawsuit sought some added protection so that large numbers of ballots wouldn’t be disqualified.

The judge said the fear of invalidated ballots was plausible, but the likelihood not great enough for him to issue an injunction. He noted that in 2016 only 94 of more than 27,000 absentee ballots were rejected on account of signature mismatches. In 2018, 21 of more than 15,000 were rejected. At those rates, even if there are 150,000 ballots, the number of rejected ballots would be around 600. So far as is known, the plaintiffs can’t demonstrate any rejections yet.

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As they have not shown a likelihood that their absentee ballots will be rejected, Plaintiffs also have not shown that they are likely to be injured if the Court refrains from ordering Defendants to direct county election officials to begin early canvassing and give notice and opportunity to voters to cure absentee ballots before rejecting those ballots due to missing or mismatched signatures.

He expressed some sympathy for the arguments.

There appears to be much merit to Plaintiffs’ arguments that notice and an
opportunity to cure signature deficiencies in absentee ballots ultimately will reduce voter confusion and disenfranchisement, encourage voter participation, and prove to be in the public interest as this litigations continues. However, mandating those changes by injunctive relief while absentee voting is ongoing seems likely to further disrupt county election processes during a period that has already been characterized by a host of disruptive pandemic-related changes to voting procedures, and—rightly or wrongly—to undermine confidence in the electoral process.

This decision likely ends any relief for this election, but the argument could continue for future elections.

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