By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — In order for your ballot to be counted, your signature must match the one on file with the state. But CBS13 has learned that tens of thousands of California ballots have been flagged for signatures that don’t match.

Ashley Dickman was shocked to get a letter from her county registrar stating that the signature on her ballot didn’t match the one on file.

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“It’s all subjective. You could find anything wrong with any signature,” Dickman said.

She was sent a signature verification form to sign and return. But when Dickman called to ensure her vote would be counted, she said a representative warned her that there was a chance the signature on her verification form wouldn’t match the one on file either.

“She said, ‘You still need to update your DMV signature by re-registering,’ because they could still reject my signature on the verification if it didn’t match,” Dickman said.

Unfortunately, the deadline to register had already passed.

“I asked if I could just go fill out a ballot at my nearest poll and she said she recommended not doing that,” Dickman said.

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According to the secretary of state’s office, Dickman’s ballot is among 21,500 California ballots that have been flagged for “signature mismatch” issues so far. That amounts to approximately one ballot out of every 330.

While the Monterey County Registrar declined an interview, Sacramento County spokesperson Courtney Bailey-Kanelos said operations can differ between counties.

She explained in smaller counties, the signature review is done entirely by people. In larger counties, like Sacramento, they have an automated ballot sorter, which verifies about 10% of the ballots where the signatures are an exact match.

The rest go to seasonal employees first, who are trained to look for things like pen pressure, size and angle. If they question a signature, the ballot then goes to the staff who have done the official signature verification training through the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (CACEO).

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“That’s when it would go to one of our permanent staff members that have been through an official training class,” Bailey-Kanelos said. 

In addition to the signature on your voter registration, they can compare your ballot signature to the one on your driver’s license,  past vote-by-mail ballots, or any “official form” with a signature.

But when Dickman asked her county about the other documents on file, she said they told her they did not have an answer.

In Sacramento County, where Dickman is from, the county election office has sent signature verification forms like the one Dickman received to 86 people.

However, in the much smaller county of Monterey, where Dickman is currently registered, she is one of 500 who had to fill out the form.

It’s not clear why Monterey County has flagged so many more signatures than Sacramento, but in an email, the registrar noted, “We are a much smaller office than Sacramento. There are currently six permanent staff members who were trained as part of the CACEO.”

In a statement, the registrar said, “The voter has up to two days before the certification to the Election to return the verification of signature statement. If the signature is drastically different, and there are no points of comparison, then we will work with the voter to ensure that they are in fact the voter and to update their signature.”

“Who has the time and energy to sit there and battle with the election office?” Dickman said.

After two days, four calls and five emails, she says the county finally verified her signature.

“I would never vote by mail again after this experience because I don’t want my signature to jeopardize my ballot,” Dickman said.

Despite what Dickerman was told by county election officials, Bailey-Kanelos suggests voters simply vote in-person, if possible, in cases like this. Voters with signatures issues can cast a provisional ballot and present other forms of ID.

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Voters have until two days before certification to correct any issues, which could range from late Nov. to Dec. 1 depending on the county. In the meantime, you can verify that your signature has been accepted by tracking your ballot the state’s ballot tracker tool.

Julie Watts