Florida researcher questions using signature matching on ballots

Dr. Juan Gilbert researches possibility of digitally voting from home

ORLANDO, Fla. – A 20-year-old South Florida man walked out of the Collier County Jail on Wednesday, accused of changing the voter registration address for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

He’s also accused of accessing the voter records of Sen. Rick Scott and sports figures Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

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“We find these hackers. Some have malicious intent, and others are just trying to see if they can do it,” said News 6 Political Analyst Jim Clark.

He said each of Florida’s 67 counties are responsible for managing and securing their own voter registration databases.

News 6 investigated the nine counties of Central Florida, and found that not only do Supervisors of Elections say they keep several backups of their registration databases, they also say they keep logs of every time something is changed.

“You’re in Florida with me. We kind of expect some craziness to happen,” said Dr. Juan Gilbert.

Gilbert is a Computer and Information Science Chair at the University of Florida.

He said he got his start studying voting technology in 2000 – that’s when election workers in Tallahassee closely examined ballots searching for hanging chads in the Al Gore-George Bush presidential election.

“Punch cards are gone. I don’t know any place that’s using punch cards anymore,” he said.

With record-setting numbers of voters casting their ballots by mail, this year, Gilbert said he’s concerned about a growing issue: signatures on those ballots not matching.

For example, in Lake County on Wednesday, a record-setting 56,000 voters had already cast their ballots by mail.

Election workers told News 6 that 553 of them have been alerted the signature on their ballot does not match the one they have on file.

In Orange County, where more than 210,000 have mailed in a ballot, more than 750 have been told their signatures don’t match.

They have until November 5 to “cure” their ballot, by filing paperwork to remedy the issue, according to Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles.

Gilbert said he believes there needs to be another way to verify that voters are who they say they are.

“The longer we go with signature verification, the error rate is just going to increase because you have generations who haven’t been accustomed to signing their name,” he said.

Gilbert said he’s working on a possible solution.

In the meantime, he said he’s created a new app for elections workers to use to curb the long lines outside of polling places.

“I was watching TV, and I saw long lines in Wisconsin during this pandemic,” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is terrible, We’ve got to do something about it.’”

His app is called inLine Ticketing System, and he said it allows election workers to issue tickets to voters using a QR code that would essentially hold a person’s place in line, allowing them to stay socially distant.

He said the software is free for election workers to use, but he’s not sure if any are using it yet.

Gilbert said he and his team are also looking into technology that would allow people to cast their votes at home using a digital ballot.

He said making the system secure enough is the key, and right now, he said, that’s a moon shot.

About the Author:

Erik Sandoval joined the News 6 team as a reporter in May 2013 and became an Investigator in 2020. During his time at News 6, Erik has covered several major stories, including the 2016 Presidential campaign. He was also one of the first reporters live on the air at the Pulse Nightclub shooting.