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Federal court gives Florida voters until Saturday to fix ballots with mismatched signatures

A statewide vote recount is being conducted in Florida to determine the races for governor, Senate, and agriculture commissioner. A federal judge has granted voters more time to fix mismatched signatures on ballots. Elections staff load ballots into a machine as recounting begins Sunday at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections Office in Lauderhill, Florida. (Joe Skipper/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Florida ruled that voters have until Saturday to fix ballots that were rejected due to mismatched signatures.

Why were these ballots rejected?

All vote-by-mail ballots and provisional ballots in Florida must include signatures that match the signature already on file with the state. Ballots submitted whose signatures do not match are automatically disqualified. Officials are supposed to notify voters of any discrepancies “immediately,” so that they can submit corrections by the day before the election.

According to the Washington Post, more than 4,000 ballots in Florida were discarded for having invalid signatures.

One of the objections that Democrats have raised regarding these discarded votes is that the election workers who decide whether or not a signature is valid have no training in how to properly verifying signatures.

What did the judge say?

Judge Mark Waller of the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee ruled that Florida residents who voted by mail were not given sufficient time to fix their mismatched signatures.

In his decision, Waller stated, “What this case comes down to is that without procedural safeguards, the use of signature matching is not reasonable and may lead to unconstitutional disenfranchisement.”

Waller pointed to Leon County as an example of somewhere election officials went "above and beyond to ensure voters have a chance to cure a signature mismatch."

"But," he added," nothing in the law requires that and other counties may choose not to exercise the level of care and concern Leon County does."

Wallers said voters "were not notified of a signature mismatch problem until it was too late to cure. ... Without this Court's intervention, these potential voters would have no remedy. Rather, they are simply out of luck and deprived of the right to vote."

Waller concluded:

This court finds that the plaintiffs have established irreparable injury. Here potentially thousands of voters have been deprived of a right to cast a legal vote — and have that vote counted — by an untrained canvassing board member based on an arbitrary determination that their respective signatures did not match. Such a violation of the right to vote cannot be undone.

This decision does not mean that all mismatched ballots will be counted. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) who hopes to keep his seat in the U.S. Senate, had tried to argue in a lawsuit that he filed that none of the mismatched ballots should be discarded.

Signatures, he said, change over time, and are not an appropriate way to verify identity. However, Waller compared the situation to a football game, and said that the only issue was whether or not the rules were applied properly and fairly.

It does mean, however, that voters who sent in ballots with invalid signatures will be notified and have a few extra days to resolve this issue. Those people will not be able to change their votes, only confirm that they were in fact the ones who cast the ballots.

What else?

Republican Gov. Rick Scott's campaign could still appeal this decision. Scott currently leads Nelson in the race for U.S. Senate by roughly 13,000 votes. In the race to replace Scott as governor of Florida, Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis leads Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum by around 34,000 votes.

Election officials have until 3 p.m. ET Thursday to turn in their results from the recounts required under state law for both of these close races.

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