In a case that could have massive implications in the upcoming presidential election, a federal judge ruled late Sunday night that local election officials must give voters who cast ballots by mail the chance to match their signatures to the ones on file if they make a mistake.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker blasted the state for limiting voting options and stated the current law, which only requires voters with mismatched signatures be notified their vote wasn’t counted after the election, was not “legally tenable,” especially since voters who don’t sign their ballots are given the opportunity to correct the error.
“The state of Florida has categorically disenfranchised thousands of voters arguably for no reason other than they have poor handwriting or their handwriting has changed over time,” Walker wrote. “This court knows disenfranchisement when it sees it and it is obscene.”
The ruling is a victory for the Florida Democratic Party, which brought the lawsuit over concerns voters weren’t having their votes counted.
“Voting by mail has always been a safe and convenient way for Floridians to vote and now everyone can return their ballots by mail secure in the knowledge that it will be counted,” said FDP chair Allison Tant.
With three weeks left before the presidential election, the ruling could prove crucial to the outcome, as Hillary Clinton and some rich asshole chase votes in the largest swing state. In 2012, there were 23,000 votes cast by mail that weren’t counted because of mismatched signatures. In a footnote in his ruling, Walker notes that George W. Bush won Florida by just 537 votes.
“It affects enough votes to change the election results, and by extension, our country’s future,” Walker wrote.
Republicans have historically had an edge with vote-by-mail ballots, with Democrats having an advantage in early voting and election day ballots. But the FDP has been focusing on narrowing that gap this election cycle.
“That’s in part why we filed the lawsuit,” said FDP spokesman Max Steele. “In the last four years the FDP has really prioritized trying to maximize vote-by-mail.”
Those efforts appear to have paid off. As of Monday afternoon, there were 210,734 mail ballots submitted by registered Democrats, 27 more than registered Republicans.
But it’s unclear whether Democrats are boosting their vote totals by pushing mail ballots or simply getting people who would have voted Democratic anyway to vote by a different method. Steele said their efforts are catching new voters, but also that banking mail ballots frees up resources devoted to get-out-the-vote initiatives targeting less motivated voters.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the official in charge of elections, argued he didn’t have the authority to order county supervisors of elections to give voters with mismatched signatures a second chance. It was an argument Walker called “at best, disengenous.”
“We received the order and are reviewing it,” Department of State spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice stated in an email.
It is the second federal court ruling in recent days that could benefit Democrats. Last week Walker extended the voter registration deadline to Tuesday because of the fallout from Hurricane Matthew, something Democrats had requested and Gov. Rick Scott refused to do.