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Court reinstates Texas's process for tossing absentee ballots over mismatched signatures

A federal appeals court reinstated Texas's procedures for rejecting ballots with signatures that don't appear to match those on record with elections officials, temporarily blocking a district judge's ruling that the process is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed an injunction against the mismatched-signatures procedure while a legal challenge plays out.

"Because Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote, we stay the injunction pending appeal," Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the unanimous panel's decision.

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The lawsuit was brought last year by voting rights groups and voters who say that their ballots had been unfairly rejected by elections officials. They argued in their complaint that the process does not abide by any uniform standards for reviewing ballot signatures and does not allow voters to prove the signature is valid if their ballots are flagged.

According to court filings, more than 5,000 ballots were rejected for alleged mismatched signatures in the 2016 and 2018 elections combined. 

Last month, Judge Orlando Garcia of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas sided with the plaintiffs, ruling that state elections officials must begin notifying voters if their ballots are set to be rejected because of a perceived signature mismatch. 

Garcia, a Clinton appointee, said that "under the current statutory system, voters face a serious risk that their mail-in ballots will be improperly rejected based on a perceived signature mismatch." 

The League of Women Voters of Texas, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called Monday's decision "deeply disappointing because it allows the State to shirk its responsibility to ensure that each vote is counted during an incredibly important election while a deadly global pandemic rages on."

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“To prevent voter disenfranchisement mail ballots that are rejected due to a signature mismatch ought to have the opportunity to be cured," said Grace Chimene, the group's president.  "We call on Texas counties to commit to notifying voters in cases of a signature mismatch as soon as possible before Election Day, and to fight for voters’ ballots to be counted—in court if need be.” 

According to the U.S. Elections Project, more than 4 million Texans have already cast their votes, leading the country in early voting numbers so far. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE is leading former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE by an average of 1.4 percentage points in the Lone Star State, according to FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of recent polls.