Box 2.1

Voter Signatures and VRDs

A required component of all voter registration forms known to the committee is an original signature of the registrant. That is, a properly completed voter registration form must include the voter’s signature on the physical form itself.

The signature requirement serves two purposes. First, the signature is the voter’s certification (under penalties of perjury) that the information provided on the form is true to the best of the voter’s knowledge and belief. The signature is thus intended to increase the likelihood that valid information is captured on the form. Second, the signature provides a method for authenticating the identity of the voter at the polling place (usually after the fact). In principle (though often not in practice), a voter’s signature when he or she appears at the polling place can be compared to the signature on file if doubts arise about whether the voter is in fact the person who filled out the voter registration form. More commonly, signatures are used in processing absentee and/or mail ballots and for petition verification.

Voter registration databases often integrate an image of voter signatures into their records of registered voters, but to the best of the committee’s knowledge, they continue to store original signatures that are captured on paper. Handwriting experts—who may be asked to judge whether two signatures are sufficiently similar—have learned from experience that a signature captured on paper provides more forensically useful information than the same signature captured only in image form. For example, the indentations on the paper registration form (indicating hand pressure with which a physical signature is made) can be compared to the paper signature captured at the polling place—such a comparison is impossible with current technology if the voter registration signature is available only in image form.

The signature requirement has one obvious drawback for voter registration—it makes impossible a voter registration process that operates entirely online. In those instances where voters may register entirely online, some other institution (generally the state’s department of motor vehicles) has on file an original signature captured on a paper form. (In this case, the signature on file does not provide the voter’s certification about the truth of the information provided—the electronic submission of such information provides the certification.)

If the registrant is not already in the state’s VRD, the individual is considered to be a first-time applicant or someone whose previous voter registration was cancelled. HAVA requires certain procedures for verifying voter registration applications. With some exceptions specified in HAVA Section 303 (b), applicants are required to provide a current and valid driver’s license number (or a state-issued nondriver’s identification) or, lacking one, the last four digits of their Social Security number (SSN).2 Those who register by mail are also required to present identifying information at the polls on Election Day (or with their mail-in ballots if they vote via mail) if their department of motor vehicles (DMV) or Social Security Administration (SSA) information cannot be verified. HAVA requires the state motor vehicle agencies and the SSA to enter into agreements with states to verify voter registration information. Currently, the state departments of motor vehicles and the Social Security Administration are using the first name, last name, month and year of birth, and last four digits of the SSN (SSN4) for the verification process.

Under these agreements, the applicant’s information can be verified against the information on file with the DMV or the SSA. If an applicant has a drivers’ license, he or she is required to provide the corresponding number, which is checked against the relevant state DMV database. State law determines


If the applicant has neither a driver’s license nor an SSN, the jurisdiction is required to provide the applicant with a unique voter identifying number.

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