Legal votes 

According to the Campaign Legal Center, 31 states require signature matching verification on mail-in-ballots. If election officials determine the signatures do not match, the ballot is rejected and not counted. 

In California’s primaries last March, more than 100,000 mail-in ballots weren’t counted. Secretary of State Alex Padilla says 70 percent were rejected because they arrived late (postmarked after election day). The second highest reason was mismatched signatures: 14,000 mail-in ballots did not count because the signature on the vote-by-mail envelope didn’t match the one on the registration card. All counties verify signatures for mail-in ballots differently. Some counties contact voters to give them the opportunity to verify their signatures, others just reject the ballot. It is rules like these that President Trump says should apply when checking the votes of the 2020 election.  

How Obama eliminated opponents by knocking them off the ballot

In 1996, Barack Obama used signature matching rules to his advantage in his first political race for state Senate in South Side Chicago. Yet, Obama also said last week that there is “no legal basis” for President Trump’s assertions that votes counted in 2020 should only be the legal ones, and rules equally applied to all voters. 

In his run for Illinois state Senate, Obama had the luxury of running unopposed in a heavily Democrat district, by using rules to invalidate the voting petition signatures of three of his challengers. To get on the ballot, Chicago rules require candidates to have enough signatures on nominating petitions for their inclusion. Obama was prepared to slay his opponents, including his former mentor and long-standing Chicago activist, incumbent Alice Palmer. John Kass, Chicago Tribune columnist, noted, “That was Chicago politics. Knock out your opposition, challenge their petitions, destroy your enemy. 

Jay Stewart of Chicago’s Better Government Association said, “In Chicago, you play with your elbows up, and you’re pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be. Obama felt that’s what was necessary at the time, that’s what he did. Does it fit in with the rhetoric now? Perhaps not.”   

Obama’s four state Senate primary opponents were Gha-is F Askia, Marc Ewell, Ulaner D. Lynch Jr, and Alice J Palmer. Legally, they needed 757 signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. They each received varying numbers of signatures (see chart), but Obama’s legal challenges dropped their numbers below the 757 threshold:  Askia – 688, Ewell – 671, Lynch Jr – 330, and Palmer – 557.

Opponent Gha-is F Askia, who was eliminated, said the Obama team challenged every single one of his petitions on “technicalities.” If names were printed instead of signed in cursive, they were declared invalid. If signatures were good but the person gathering the signatures wasn’t properly registered, those petitions also were thrown out. In the end, Askia was 69 signatures short of the amount needed to be on the ballot.  

John McCain/Photo: USA Today

Will Burns was one of the team of lawyers and volunteers given the task of going over every petition submitted by the other candidates. He said, “The rules are there for a reason.” In fact, Obama is not the only politician to resort to petition challenges to eliminate the competition.

Reports say John McCain did so in at least two of his Senate races.  Burns also pointed out that challenging petitions is a smart way to avoid having to run a full-blown expensive race. “If opponents do not have enough signatures to get on the ballot, you will not have to raise money for a full-blown campaign effort against an incumbent.” 

Most outrageous at the time was that Obama knocked out incumbent Palmer using signature matching. Burns said, “It was not something that I thought he was happy about doing,” but he did it anyway to clear out any real competition.

State Senator Alice Palmer had tapped Obama to run for her seat, and he jumped at the chance. Her friend State Senator Rickey Hendon said Palmer and Obama had a discussion about him replacing her for the Senate when she went to Congress. So, there was an agreement between them. When she lost the race for Congress, she said she would not run for re-election and asked Obama to withdraw. He refused to step down.

There’s no way Obama could have beat Alice Palmer in that seat,” said Hendon.  “It just wasn’t going to happen. Alice was extremely popular.”  So, Obama played hardball and challenged Palmer’s right to be on the ballot. He saw that her nominating petitions for the Board of Elections had been put together in a hurry and consequently found a number of Palmer’s signatures were not valid.

Chicago Tribune columnist Kass said Obama’s first race outed him as a bare-knuckled politician “using the rules to win is part of who Obama is.” He added that the portrayal of Obama as someone advocating for everyone to come together and put their best ideas forward was misleading. “That’s the spin; that’s in the Kool-Aid. You can have some. Any flavor. But the real deal was, get rid of Alice Palmer.”

Trump and his campaign have raised challenges to election results in states across the country. Despite his efforts to throw shade on Trump’s fraud claims, Obama probably knows they are abiding by rules that were already in place, using all legal means available, just as he did in the past.

Carol King received a first class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed a MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC.

Twitter: @CarolKing561

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Carol King received a first-class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at the University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed a MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC. Twitter: @CarolKing561