Election 2020: Here's how voter signatures are verified on mail-in ballots

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- As election day nears, President Donald Trump continues to express concern about the reliability of mail-in or dropped-off ballots. They will be under considerable scrutiny, this year, beginning with their signatures.

That is why Panner Low of Marin County expressed concern before dropping off her votes Wednesday morning. The signature on her ballot did not match another on her driver's license.

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"Are you worried?"

"I am now," she said. "How do I know if it will count?"

The answer begins inside Marin County's Civic Center with a sorting machine nicknamed Betsy Ross. Every early ballot passes through it.

"We get three passes, total," said Michael Cellechia of the Registrar's Office.

Once every second, the machine scans signatures and compares them with the Registrar's database. Roughly 25 percent of ballots do not make the first cut. However, a computer challenge does not automatically disqualify a vote. No, this is a process.

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"I just want to count the vote. Make sure the votes count," said Marin County registrar Lynda Roberts. For her, the democratic process borders on religion, especially in 2020. More than half of Marin County's 175,000 registered voters have submitted ballots, already.

"There is heightened interest," said Roberts.

And scrutiny.

Challenged ballots go upstairs, where humans scan them instead of computers. Jenny Sowry is one of those people. This is her 25th election.

"Well we have signature theory that we follow," Sowry told us.

It comes with the turf that registrar workers become handwriting experts. In comparing signatures, they look at the size of letters, the proportion, the slants, the connections, and how fast a person may have signed.

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As a test, I gave Jenny three very different versions of my own signature. It took her about two seconds. "There is a similarity in the 'W' as well as a connection here. And it is scribbled."

"Can you tell from the signature that this is an organized, sane, and wonderful person?" I asked.

"It is the voter," Jenny replied.

When analyzed, 99 percent of signatures do eventually pass. The rest generate letters back to voters, who can contact the office and fix any problem before final certification, 30 days after election day.

"I do want to be a protector of democracy," said Registrar Roberts.

Checking signatures is one of the ways it is done.

Get the latest stories and videos about the 2020 election here.

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