E-signatures just one concern, election integrity advocate says


VOTING CONCERNS: One election integrity advocate says Virginia is trading the security of elections for ease.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The acceptance of electronic or e-signatures on voter registration forms from third parties poses risks, but there’s a lot more to be worried about leading up to Nov. 4, says one election integrity advocate.

At the end of September, Attorney General Mark Herring confirmed a directive that the State Board of Elections issued a year ago under the administration of former Gov. Bob McDonnell. The Norfolk Electoral Board had asked Herring whether it should accept signatures issued by third parties electronically, given concerns about potential ID theft and voter integrity.

Herring gave the legal green light.

Reagan George, president of the Virginia Voters Alliance, said accepting e-signatures “potentially lends itself to voter integrity issues.”

It’s just another piece of the seemingly constant battle between those who prioritize maximum security and integrity in voting, versus those who prioritize maximum accessibility.

George recalled a town hall meeting held by Maryland Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings. George recalls that, during the meeting, one Democrat passionately opposed the use of e-signatures “because it was so unsecured.”

“I was kind of taken aback by how emotional the guy was about it,” George said.

Some states, such as Iowa, have given the green light to e-signatures — after technological measures are put in place to ensure information stays private and isn’t used for nefarious purposes.

George doesn’t put too much trust in people to not take advantage of e-signatures.

“This electronic signature is just another way to create fraudulent registration,” George said.

Edgardo Cortez, commissioner of the Department of Elections, said this shouldn’t differ from physically signed paper forms.

“The form is then being printed out and mailed in with the signature on it,” Cortez told Watchdog.org for an earlier story. “So I’m not sure what the security concerns would be in this instance.”

George said e-signatures are a small piece of the puzzle.

“There are a lot of other problems besides this electronic signature,” George said.

Virginia’s voter rolls are bloated, George said, and 44,000 people are dually registered in Maryland and Virginia, for example.

In Fairfax County, local officials are asking the federal government to prosecute 17 people who voted in both that county and in Maryland in 2012, according to registrar records.

“We could have a bloated roll of about a million inactive voters that are just perfect potential candidates for voter fraud,” George said.

Cortez emphasized that by making more of the voting process available electronically, the department is trying to make the democratic process as smooth as possible for voters.

“We’re looking forward to being able to do more stuff like that, make the process easier for voters,” Cortez said.

Still, there’s a tradeoff to ease and accessibility, George said.

“Nobody gets questioned or anything,” George said.

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached on Twitter @kathrynw5.