The Campaign Spot

Obama’s Team Rejected Nomination Petition Signatures Because They Were in Print?

This weekend, the Democratic National Committee will hold its first rules committee meeting, and passions and tensions are expected to be high, as the factions try to decide whether to count any delegates from Florida and Michigan, some of them, or all of them. The term “disenfranchisement” is likely to be thrown around a lot.

If, as expected, Obama’s allies argue for no delegates or as few as possible, it is worth recalling a similar argument from earlier in his career, in his first political race.
David Mendell’s Obama: From Promise to Power, page 110:

But Obama had one card up his sleeve. He could not envision how [rival Alice] Palmer’s supporters, even as solidified as they seemed to be, had gathered the necessary number of voter signatures on her nominating petitions in such a short time. Palmer herself confessed at her press conference that the nearly sixteen hundred petitions she had filed with the state elections board had been accumulated in just ten days. So a volunteer for Obama challenged the legality of her petitions, as well as the legality of petitions from several other candidates in the race. As an elections board hearing on the petitions neared, Palmer realized that Obama had called her hand, and she acknowledged that she had not properly acquired the necessary number of signatures. Many of the voters had printed their names, rather than signing them as the law required. Palmer said she was desperately trying to get affidavits from those who had printed their names, but time was running out. She had no choice but to withdraw from the race. The other opponents were also knocked off the ballot, leaving Obama running unopposed in the primary.

I had heard the stories of Obama winning his first primary by getting all of his opponents disqualified. But I hadn’t heard that the criteria for disqualifying his opponents was such a technicality. Signatures were rejected because the names were printed? People’s signatures were actually thrown out because they weren’t in cursive?
(This presumes that the board didn’t have some other, oddly unstated reason to think that the printed names were fraudulent.)
Palmer needed 757 signatures; Obama’s allies had to challenge about 700 or so. How many were rejected because they weren’t in script?
The Tribune’s reporting on the fight details how the Obama team knocked off hundreds of names for all of his rivals:

City authorities had just completed a massive, routine purge of unqualified names that eliminated 15,871 people from the 13th District rolls, court records show.
Ewell and other Obama rivals had relied on early 1995 polling sheets to verify the signatures of registered voters—but Obama’s challenges were decided at least in part using the most recent, accurate list, records show.
Askia filed 1,899 signatures, but the Obama team sustained objections to 1,211, leaving him 69 short, records show…
Palmer to this day does not concede the flaws that Obama’s team found in her signatures. She maintains that she could have overcome the Obama team’s objections and stayed on the ballot if she had more time and resources.

Is at acceptable for the nominee of the party whose unofficial slogan since the 2000 recount has been “count every vote” to get all rivals removed from the ballot because some of their nominating signatures are printed? How can a party staunchly oppose requiring those who show up to the polls to show ID to ensure they are who they say they are, then accept the argument that a signature is invalid if the letters aren’t one continuous line?
How many Chicago voters were aware of that criteria? Isn’t that one step – or less – away from disenfranchisement? Keep in mind, this is the side of the aisle that in 2000 argued that a ballot that was deemed “no vote” by the vote-counting machine should still be counted if any “dimpled chads” could be found. They argued that intent to vote outweighed whether the voter had actually marked a ballot sufficiently to be picked up by the voting machine.
Doesn’t a printed signature represent an intent to sign a nominating petition? Why is acceptable to reject the voter’s intent in this case?
UPDATE: A reader notes that several states have this rule on the books, including Ohio’s declaration, “A signature must be written in cursive on the petition if it is in cursive on the elector’s registration record” and Delaware County’s “‘Signature’ means that person’s written, cursive-style legal mark written in that person’s own hand.” The reader notes,

I think the cursive vs. printed rules are going the way of the dinosaurs, but in the old days it was a way of assuring petition integrity. The signature on the petition has to be seen to match the signature on the voter registration card. Successful challenges are usually to petition “signatures” in printed hands when the voter id card on file has a cursive “signature.” So the two dont match.

I see the reasoning behind it, although in Chicago, I suppose that it would also determine if the voter’s signature changed after he died. (I know, I know, political races in the Windy City are much more honest now that the deceased vote only once.) What I’m left wondering is, did the voters know the rule? Pretty obviously not. Yes, it’s the fault of the volunteers for the other campaigns for not reminding the signers to write in cursive, and I’m generally supportive of efforts to weed our voter fraud.
But in Florida, enforcing a rule about what constitutes a vote — i.e., you have to punch the hole completely — was deemed “disenfranchisement” by just about every Democrat in the country. That strikes me as much clearer and more justifiable; printing vs. cursive strikes me as much less compelling criteria to disallow a voter’s effort, be it a cast ballot or a petition signature.


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