Ryan Chartrand

A person’s name means a great deal to them. A name bears your heritage and it’s your personal identification.

Now imagine not being able to sign a document because of a disability.

People First of San Luis Obispo, a self-advocacy organization for people with disabilities, wants a person’s signature stamp to count the same as a regular signature does on a voter’s ballot.

“It may affect more people than we think,” said People First Vice President Jody Barker.

Barker gave examples that this could be an issue for someone who had a stroke or got in a car accident and lost feeling in their hands.

“We’re trying to get this issue off the ground and make people aware and hopefully the law will be changed.”

People unable to use their hands have their signature placed on a stamp to sign important personal documents.

Stamps are valid to sign bank, Social Security and medical paperwork, yet if used on absentee ballots, they are not considered a legal signature.

Those without stamps sign their name with a single letter.

The California Elections Code requires a witness to sign under the stamp or mark to validate identity.

According to signature stamp advocates, by having to compose a letter as their name is degrading and to have a witness over their shoulder creates a pressured atmosphere. Under the Help America Vote Act of 2002, everyone is entitled to vote privately and independently.

People First wants people with disabilities to have the same privacy as any other voter.

The organization mailed a letter to the Secretary of State’s Office Oct. 11 asking for the stamp to be considered legal.

A letter was sent to another organization from the secretary of state’s staff that said the rule for the stamp will not change.

People First will meet with assemblyman Sam Blakeslee’s aid to discuss drafting a bill to allow the disabled to use a signature stamp.

Jennifer Dwyer, 31, a Cal Poly journalism graduate was born with cerebral palsy and is unable to move her lower body is in favor of the stamp. Dwyer works as a peer advocate for Tri-Counties Regional Center. Her company is a branch of a statewide system to assist people with disabilities physically and emotionally to help them live as independently as possible.

Although Dwyer doesn’t use the stamp method to sign her ballot, she believes the option should be made available.

“I don’t know what the future will hold for me or anyone else, but I do know this is a civil rights issue. The letter of the law as it stands a disabled person must have a witness to make their own vote count, but the spirit of the law takes away self-sufficiency, independence and privacy.”

Julie Rodewald, the San Luis Obispo county clerk-recorder, said the office occasionally receives signature stamps on absentee ballots and must send them back because a witness must sign the ballot as well.

The clerk’s office returns the ballots to let the person have the opportunity to have their ballot be counted. The witness can be anyone.

If a signature stamp voting bill passed, Rodewald said there would be little effect on the office because not that many people use the stamp, but at the same time the voting process would be less troublesome.

“It would be positive for the office (the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder) and to the voters who use the stamps,” Rodewald said.

Oregon, Maine and Connecticut have made signature stamps legal. The states require people to register the stamp at the local election office in advance to compare the stamp on the ballot.

Every Tuesday morning the chapter meets at 3055 Duncan Lane, Suite D to discuss issues and events. To find out more about People First of SLO, call 782-8893.

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