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A voter returns a vote by mail ballot in California. Andrew Nixon / CapRadio A voter returns a vote by mail ballot in California. Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

A voter returns a vote by mail ballot in California. Andrew Nixon / CapRadio

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy February 16, 2021
Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols February 16, 2021

Yes, California requires signature verification for mail-in ballots and Newsom recall petitions

If Your Time is short

  • California verified signatures for mail-in ballots cast in the 2020 election. Officials in the state’s 58 counties were required by law to check the signature on each voter’s ballot envelope against the signature from that person’s voter registration.

  • The same law that requires signatures for vote-by-mail ballots also applies to recall petitions like the one circulating in an effort to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.

After Republicans seeking to recall California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said they had reached the number of signatures necessary to trigger a special election, one conservative influencer falsely claimed that the organizers have faced hurdles that voters in November’s election did not.

"So California is requiring signature verification for Gavin Newsom’s recall, but didn’t require it for the mail in ballots. How strange," said actor Kevin Sorbo, who starred as "Hercules" in a TV series about the mythological hero, in a tweet sent to hundreds of thousands of followers.

A screenshot of Kevin Sorbo's tweet making false claims about California's election laws.

In fact, California did require signature verification for mail-in ballots for the 2020 election, as PolitiFact reported in the months leading up to Election Day. Several election officials, experts, journalists and fact-checkers debunked Sorbo’s Feb. 15 tweet soon after it was posted.

But the tweet still circulated widely, picking up thousands of retweets and likes. It was further amplified on the platform by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.

The claim was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

A screenshot of Rudy Giuliani's Instagram post sharing Kevin Sorbo's false claims about California's election laws.

In addition, Buzz Patterson, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully last year for Congress in California’s 7th Congressional District in the Sacramento area, made a similar false claim that vote-by-mail signatures were not verified during last year’s general election.

Sorbo has previously pushed false information from his social media accounts, including the baseless claim that antifa was behind the U.S. Capitol riot. Facebook removed his page Feb. 12 for sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines, a company spokesperson said. 

This time, PolitiFact decided to step in with the facts. (Sorbo did not respond to a request for comment submitted through his website.)

California has signature verification for mail-in votes and recalls

Election officials rejected Sorbo’s claim. 

"Sorbo’s tweet is not true," Sam Mahood, a spokesperson for the California Secretary of State’s Office wrote in an email, citing the office’s own fact check on this topic.

"That tweet was totally inaccurate," added Amber McReynolds, a national expert on election administration and Denver’s former elections director.

For a vote-by-mail ballot to count in California, the voter must sign the outside of their ballot’s envelope before they return it. California election law then requires officials in all 58 counties to verify the signatures on the envelope using the voter’s signature on file, which is the one provided when a person registers to vote. The same law requires officials to cross-check recall petition signatures with the signature on a voter registration record. 

The method used to verify signatures for vote-by-mail ballots is different county-by-county. Some use software while others use county staff to examine signatures one at a time, Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, told PolitiFact California last year. 

Thousands of vote-by-mail ballot signatures are rejected every election when officials determine they don’t match with the signature on file. Nearly 50,000 were rejected last November, added Alexander, describing the rejections as "clear evidence that there is a signature check requirement." 

A law signed in 2018 requires election officials to notify voters at least eight days before the certification of the election when they reject a signature and give them a chance to provide a valid one. 

Signatures collected for petitions, like the effort to recall Newsom,are also verified at the county level. Mahood said the process should "generally be the same" as the process for verifying signatures on ballots, save for the fact that petitions carry multiple signatures, not one.

Supporters of the recall have criticized Newsom for what they describe as draconian stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as for the state employment department’s failure to quickly issue jobless benefits over the past year as hundreds of thousands of people lost jobs during the shutdowns. In recent weeks, the governor has faced criticism for the state’s slow roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Our ruling

Sorbo said, "So California is requiring signature verification for Gavin Newsom’s recall, but didn’t require it for the mail in ballots."

On the contrary, California did require signature verification for mail-in ballots during the 2020 election. Officials in all 58 of the state’s counties were required by law to check the signature on each voter’s ballot envelope against the signature from that person’s voter registration.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

Our Sources

Kevin Sorbo on Twitter (archived), Feb. 15, 2021 

Various searches on Hoaxy, accessed Feb. 16, 2021

California Secretary of State, "Signature Verification, Ballot Processing, and Ballot Counting (Emergency Regulations)," accessed Feb. 16, 2021

California Secretary of State, "Current Recall Efforts," accessed Feb. 16, 2021

Mike Huckabee on Twitter (archived), Feb. 16, 2021

Rudy W. Giuliani on Twitter (archived), Feb. 15, 2021

Rudy W. Giuliani on Instagram (archived), Feb. 15, 2021

Buzz Patterson on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

CA SOS Vote on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

Sam Mahood on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

Daniel Dale on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

Amber McReynolds on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

John Myers on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

Yashar Ali on Twitter, Feb. 15, 2021

California Secretary of State, "Procedures for Recalling State and Local Officials," 2020

PolitiFact California, "Advice For Making Sure Your Mail-In Ballot Gets Counted In California," Oct. 23, 2020

PolitiFact California, "Answering Questions About Vote-By-Mail In California Amid COVID-19, Attacks By Trump," June 2, 2021

Email correspondence with Rick Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, Feb. 16, 2021

Email correspondence with Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, Feb. 16, 2021

Email interview with Amber McReynolds, chief executive officer of the National Vote at Home Institute, Feb. 16, 2021

Email interview with Sam Mahood, press secretary for the California Secretary of State’s Office, Feb. 16, 2021

Statement from Facebook, Feb. 16, 2021

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More by Bill McCarthy

Yes, California requires signature verification for mail-in ballots and Newsom recall petitions

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