Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wet Signatures

Is there an election administrator term any more geeky than "wet signature?"

The term means an actual, physical signature, as in, "with ink."  Get it?  Ink is wet.

Most election jurisdictions, including Kansas and the Department of Defense (for military and overseas voters), require a wet signature on the voter registration form.  That's why voters can't go to our website, complete a registration online, hit "submit," and call it done.

Instead, they must print off the form and sign it, then mail, fax, or scan and email it.  Some drop it off in person, old school.

We were the first election office in Kansas to begin accepting faxed and scanned registrations after getting permission from the Secretary of State's office.  There is a drawback to accepting anything faxed; primarily, if the voter faxed the form upside down, the voter has a confirmation that the fax went through and we have a blank piece of paper with no idea how to contact the person who now thinks he or she is registered.

That will be an issue when voters begin faxing photo identification for advance voting or when citizenship verification goes into effect next year.  I expect we will get a lot of faxes that have black boxes where the photos were.

PDF Expert, an iPad Application
that makes wet signatures dry
So, in those cases, email is better.

We set this all up around the Dark Ages of technology, back around the 2008 presidential election, before iPads even existed (I was the first kid on the block to get one on the day they came out and believe it or not that was less than two years ago, April 2010).

Why does that matter?  Well, now there is an app and I'm sure many more coming that push the, um, email envelope.  The app, PDF expert, allows voters to complete a voter registration form, for instance, and sign it with their finger or a stylus.  Then, the voter can email that application to us.

So, is that a wet signature?  Probably, although if this catches on, election geeks will have to huddle for a new phrase.  Jargon is hard to come by in the election world, and many eyes will be wet if this phrase goes away.

We received our first registration that looks like it came through this way.  Here's the rub, though--signing your name with your index finger on a piece of glass looks a lot different than your signature with a pen on a piece of paper.  We check signatures on advance voting applications and on mail-ballots against the registration signature.  Likely, some of these signatures won't match the PDF Expert version.

Our recommendation to anyone using this new technology is to sign their name with a stylus, as well use as a steady hand holding the iPad.


Anonymous said...

Maryland now accepts Online Voter Registration, but we also have the requirement of a physical signature. However, there was another law that said if one state agency has your signature, other state agencies can use it.

The legislatures noticed that, and noticed what places like Arizona are doing, and said, why not? So now, as long as a voter has a valid drivers license or state ID in Maryland, they can register to vote online. The system validates real-time against the MVA and if we get a signature back from them, the registration goes through. If we don't, the voter is prompted print out the application and sign it the old fashioned way.

Then, the OLVR data transfer system takes all the data from the application and creates a PDF of a voter registration application, complete with the image of the signature from the MVA. It gets placed into the voter registration system and is attached to the voter record, just as if we received paper and the local board scanned it in.

Super cool, I think! It does mean the new people to the state who want to register before they have gotten a Maryland DL are out of luck, but the vast majority of voters DO have id. (Of course, we don't have the citizenship proof issue you have.)

Unknown said...

electronic signature FAQ
The term wet signatures just caught my attention and I was curious to know about it. After reading this article I came to know that these are just handwritten signatures which are made by ink.