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Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time

The Republicans, worried that the party may lose two Senate seats, a Governor’s mansion, and probably a bunch more close races for the House over the counting of disputed mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, are drumming up conspiracy theories now. I just drove through Trump Country last night and listened to Fox Radio as the host (I think it was Laura Ingraham) and her call-ins denounced the recount battles as Democratic corruption.

The biggest laugh was when Ingraham noted that Floridians had passed a law that will (finally!) permit non-violent felons who have served their time to vote. She snarkily said, “We’ll see how that works out!” This, of course, after Republican voters in Southern California elected to the House two convicted felons.

At any rate, it needs to be pointed out to these people, who are either simply incapable of logic or just grabbing at straws to attack a legitimate need for a careful count of all ballots, that there are good reasons why signatures when a person votes, and when they originally registered to vote, can be different looking. My father-in-law is 91, and has palsied hands. When we tried to get him a mail ballot so he could vote at the nursing home he lives in, he enthusiastically signed the ballot application as best as he could. It was rejected by New Jersey authorities (NJ is a heavily Democratic state by the way and he happens to be a Democrat) because they said his signature didn’t match the one he signed five years ago when he and my mother-in-law moved to New Jersey from Florida and registered to vote when they got their state ID cards at the state Motor Vehicle Dept.

Of course his signatures don’t match! His hands were steady five years ago.

But no amount of phone calling about it would convince the Bergen County registrar to send out a mail ballot to his address, and as we live in Pennsylvania, and he, while of sound mind but on oxygen and bed-bound, is physically unable to take an ambulette trek to county offices just to prove he is who he is.

So he didn’t get to vote.

My mother-in-law, incidentally, did receive a mail ballot, though her signature, always illegible like her handwriting, is now perfectly neat (and perfectly different from the one she signed when she registered). This is because she has arthritic hands and at this point has to work at writing, so she does her signature carefully now, not as a fast scrawl as she used to do. Nobody noticed the difference when she applied for her ballot, but if she were still living in Broward County, Florida, irate Republicans and the party’s lawyers would probably be trying to have her consistently Democratic vote voided.

And it’s not just old people. I look at my signature today, which has over the years lost the Jr. (I stopped using that after my father died, since I never liked it anyhow, and it made no sense any longer), and which has gradually evolved from what it was when I first registered to vote at 21 in 1970 (a year before 18-year-olds got the vote) from something fairly legible to a mere approximation of letters. We all change our handwriting.

Beyond this, Republican critics of the slow counting of provisional ballots like Ingraham are deliberately not mentioning the reason there are so many in states like Arizona, and especially Georgia and Florida, that masses of provisional ballots cast. This is because they are a direct consequence of a long history of increasingly desperate Republican voter suppression efforts, designed to compensate for the inevitable decline in their numbers as aging white males become an ever-smaller percentage of the nation’s population.

A big suppression tactic in Florida and Georgia has been running registered voter list name checks against an outrageous national list of felons developed by the Darth Vader of voter disinfranchisement: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. As investigative journalist Greg Palast has proven, that list of Kobach’s includes huge numbers of John Smiths, Jim Johnsons, Tom Freemans or Freedmans, Carol Thomases etc. — all common names for African-Americans stuck with the surnames assigned to their forebears by the slaveowners who bought them.

The trick is, a corrupt Secretary of State like current embattled Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp (a man so corrupt he refused until forced yesterday by public pressure to step down from his current post as Secretary of State overseeing the count in his own election race), will alert county voter registrars that everyone on their lists who has “their” name appearing on the national felon-list should be scrubbed as a registered voter. When someone comes in to vote on Election Day with a suspect name, they are not allowed to vote but can request a provisional ballot, and then later prove they have no criminal record. In Florida, this dirty trick was applied so commonly and widely that it led to passage of the new law restoring citizenship rights to felons who have paid their “debt to society.”

Provisional ballots filled out as a consequence of such tactics should clearly be counted, not blocked from being counted by court action.

Another common Republican suppression tactic is to send postcards to registered voters at their last registered address, usually fairly close to an election, saying to return it if they live there. The cards look like junk mail, and require buying a stamp, so people receiving them may just toss them, and then later their names get wiped from the voter rolls, which they only discover when they try to vote. Or, since many low-income people, especially minorities, are renters and tend, much more than home owners, to move either to better digs if their income or family situation changes, or if they lose a job and have to downsize. That means they change addresses so the card never reaches them, and again they are wiped from the rolls. It’s a deliberate trick to deny the vote to people who have registered. Again, such people can demand a provisional ballot.

If they filled one out it should be counted.

Anyone who says otherwise is as corrupt as Kobach, who by the way managed to lose his race badly to a Democratic woman, who will now be the governor of Kansas, a state often described — but no more — as “the reddest of the red states.” (The state’s voters also elected a Democratic Native American lesbian to represent one of the state’s four Congressional districts — a huge and dramatic breakthrough in many ways.)

Voting may be over-rated as a way to effect change in this country, given our corrupted political system of two pro-corporate parties, and of unlimited money going to fund (bribe) candidates, but it is still important, and it is moreover a fundamental right of citizenship that was won for women and minorities as a result of major mass movement struggles, battles and blood. Those who deny it or who try to make it harder or impossible to exercise for certain classes or races of people are not just spitting on the Constitution, they are criminals far worse than most of the felons who are in most states being denied the right to vote.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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