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In Washington, voters need to sign carefully to avoid rejection of their ballots

Paula Wissel

When was the last time you had to put your official signature on something? These days, we rarely have to use it. We aren't writing many checks and even when we have to sign for something, it's on a digital device where a squiggly line will suffice.

Maybe that explains why two-thirds of ballots rejected in Washington state, which is an all mail-in state, are because the signature doesn't match the one election officials have on file. The other third are because ballots were postmarked after the deadline.

Seattle resident Phillip Allison found out the hard way how important it is to think before you sign your ballot envelope. In a recent election, he got a letter telling him his ballot was rejected because the signature didn't match the one on his voter registration. He said he'd done his due diligence researching candidates and issues, but when he went to sign his name he treated it like a credit card receipt.

"I just scribbled my signature down, tossed it in the mailbox, didn’t worry about it and then it was rejected,” Allison said.

He was given the opportunity to fix, or "cure," his ballot. But Allison is sharing his story on social media to spare others the hassle.

There are lots of reasons a signature might not match. For instance, you signed up to vote when you were 18, but your signature is different now.

There is a way to be proactive. At, you can update your signature and your voter registration. State election officials say if you're concerned that your signature won't match, you should update your signature now, before mailing in your ballot.

Lori Augino, director of elections for the Washington Secretary of State, says election workers check every signature on every ballot envelope. She said, on average, 1 percent to 1.6 percent of ballots are initially rejected. Signatures, she said, are a key piece of election security in a mail-in election.

“That helps an election official know that you are the one that voted and returned that ballot,“ she said.

Augino said workers are trained in signature analysis by Washington State Patrol Fraud Control. "They look for slant and height and other traits that show the signature was signed by the same person," she said.

Augino said officials recognize that people's signatures evolve over time, and that's why it's important to get an updated version on file.

If your ballot is rejected, you have until Nov. 23, the day before the election is certified, to fix it. If a ballot isn't cured by then, the county Canvassisng Board has the final say. In each county, the three-member board is made up of the chair of the county council, the prosecuting attorney and the county auditor.

In 2016, the last presidential election, 3,363,440 ballots were cast in Washington — 78.76 percent of registered voters. As of Oct. 1 of this year, there were 4,722,683 people registered to vote in the state. Ballots are being mailed out by counties this week.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.