weather icon Mostly Cloudy

VICTOR JOECKS: County lowers ‘confidence level’ for ballot signatures

The Clark County Election Department lowered the factory settings on its signature verification machine. So much for matching signatures as an impenetrable guard against election fraud.

Earlier this month, every active Clark County voter should have received a ballot. Some people received more than their share of ballots. Last week, I shared the story of Laurel Morley, who received three ballots for two children who live out of state and a deceased aunt.

That’s hardly the only concerning case. Another man wrote in to tell me his wife received two ballots. A reader sent me a picture of the two ballots he received in his name. He also received a ballot for his mom, who passed away five years ago. Audra Stagg sent a picture of her husband’s ballot, which had been delivered to the wrong address.

These examples are just the tip of the loose-ballot iceberg. When confronted with situations like these, election officials claim signature verification makes mail ballots secure. They imply a signature is like finding a fingerprint at a crime scene: Everyone’s signature is unique, and there’s an impartial way to judge them.

There’s not. Signature verification isn’t an objective comparison but a sliding scale manipulated by election officials. Clark County is using an Agilis machine to do the first signature check. The machine uses an algorithm to compare variance in the signature. If the machine says the signatures match, then a ballot is counted without any further review. The manufacturer recommends starting out at a 50 on a 0 to 100 scale.

That score is a “confidence level,” said Anthony Paiz, vice president of field services of Runbeck Election Services, which makes the machine. Paiz said his company recommends changes to that score are “done with bipartisan” buy-in.

That didn’t happen in Clark County, where officials downgraded the confidence level to a 40 out of 100.

“To determine what score to use, we ran tests of the system and concluded that 40 would accept all the signatures that are obvious matches,” the spokesman said.

When asked if the “40” confidence level allowed inaccurate ballots to get through, the spokesman didn’t respond by deadline. Registrar Joe Gloria refused to answer questions on Monday.

This is terrifying. Clark County is potentially the swing county in the swing state. It has tens of thousands of ballots floating around, legalized ballot harvesting and downgraded signature verification.

In the unlikely event that the Agilis machine — set at the lower threshold — rejects a signature, the ballot isn’t flagged immediately. At least three county workers have to reject the ballot before officials consider the signature a mismatch. The voter then is contacted to verify that he or she sent in that ballot.

It’s worth noting that there are many situations where even perfect signature verification wouldn’t detect fraud. For instance, if you’re sent two ballots because the voter rolls contain two variations of your name, signature verification isn’t helping. Or if you have access to a copy of the signature of someone, such as a relative or deceased family member, you could easily forge a signature.

The Election Department’s motto seems to be, “Trust, don’t verify.” This doesn’t prove fraud is widespread, but it does show there is ample opportunity.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 3 p.m. with Kevin Wall on AM 670 KMZQ Right Talk. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.