One in a frequent series of stories examining Maine’s voting system.

Voters’ signatures are a critical part of the absentee ballot voting process in Maine.

State law requires that you sign the back flap of the envelope you use to return your absentee ballot, and if your signature doesn’t match the signature on your absentee ballot application, election officials can reject your ballot.

Election data shows this rarely happens in Maine, and most voters requesting absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election have done so online, for which a signature is not required.

But some voters still worry that their handwriting on a ballot application and the signed ballot return envelope won’t match and their ballot won’t be counted.

The Secretary of State’s Office has urged local election clerks to contact voters whose ballot is rejected because of a missing or mismatched signature, although that notification is not required under state law.

Here’s what you need to know about ballot signatures to avoid problems:

Are many absentee ballots rejected in Maine because of a mismatched signature?

No, only a tiny portion of ballots are rejected because a signature doesn’t match. In the 2016 presidential election in Maine, only 27 of 254,674 absentee ballots cast were rejected by clerks for signatures that didn’t match. Far more ballots, 1,025, were rejected because voters failed to sign their envelope at all.

What will happen if the clerk decides my signature doesn’t match?

Because so many voters are using Maine’s no-excuse absentee ballot law this year as a means of protecting themselves against being exposed to COVID-19 at the polls, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has issued special guidance to local election officials.

The guidance requires clerks to make a “good faith” effort to contact a voter by email or phone within 24 hours if their ballot is rejected for any reason, to give the voter a chance to correct any error, including a mismatched signature.

Under this guidance, the clerks may be able to accept your ballot if you confirm by phone or email that you in fact signed it. Voters should make sure their name and return address is filled out on the envelope, or clerks won’t know who to contact.

What if my name changed since I last registered to vote? For example, I was married or divorced and I no longer sign my name the way I used to?

Again, you should update your voter registration with your current legal name and your current signature.

What if I’m unable to sign my ballot because of a cognitive, physical or visual impairment but I still want to vote by absentee ballot?

State law allows you to cast an absentee ballot with the aid of an assistant, who will sign the back of the envelope for you.

You must request this accommodation when you apply for your absentee ballot and name your assistant in that request.

When you are unable to sign the return envelope for your absentee ballot, you can have the envelope signed by the assistant, but it must be signed in one of two specific formats. For example, “Jane Doe assistant on behalf of voter John Smith” or “John Smith voter signed by Jane Doe assistant.”

Are there any other ways a person who is visually impaired can vote in Maine?

Yes, you can request and complete an online absentee ballot. The Secretary of State’s Office, working with Disability Rights Maine and other partners, rolled out a new system for this earlier this month.

The new system is intended for voters with print disabilities, which may include vision impairment or blindness, physical dexterity limitations, learning disabilities or cognitive impairment, all of which prevent the voter from independently marking a paper ballot.

You can request your accessible online absentee ballot using the state’s online absentee ballot request service. You will need to then click on the tab to request an accessible ballot.

What’s the deadline for doing this?

All registered voters will have until 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, to request an absentee ballot online.

Correction: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 to correct incorrect information about the voter signature verification process for absentee ballots.

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