The One Place Your Signature Still Matters

December 4, 2018

Perfect handwriting and celebrity autographs don't really seem to matter anymore. And in general, no one appears to care about signatures – except in one very significant case.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Speaker 1: There are six surviving signatures

Speaker 1: from William Shakespeare.

Speaker 1: Here's his signature from

Speaker 1: a court case deposition in 1612.

Speaker 1: There's another from when he bought a house in

Speaker 1: 1613 and another for the mortgage [MUSIC].

Speaker 1: He signed his name in three different places

Speaker 1: on his will in 1616,

Speaker 1: but for having arguably the most famous name

Speaker 1: in England after Queen Elizabeth,

Speaker 1: he was really inconsistent in how he signed it.

Speaker 1: Each one of these is different.

Speaker 1: Historians are confident they're all authentic.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] Signing his name differently

Speaker 1: three times in his will didn't prevent

Speaker 1: Shakespeare from leaving his second best bed

Speaker 1: to his widow after he died.

Speaker 1: Shakespeare isn't so different

Speaker 1: from a lot of people today.

Speaker 1: He signed his name differently

Speaker 1: in different places for different reasons.

Speaker 1: Ever done this at the checkout line?

Speaker 1: But if Bill Shakespeare had been born

Speaker 1: five hundred years later in the United States,

Speaker 1: his different signatures could

Speaker 1: have prevented him from voting.

Speaker 1: A signature is required for

Speaker 1: big stuff like buying a house or getting married,

Speaker 1: but you can make any mark you want.

Speaker 1: It doesn't matter what it looks like,

Speaker 1: all that's required is the person doing

Speaker 1: the signing is the one entering into the agreement,

Speaker 1: and that signing didn't happen under duress.

Speaker 1: [APPLAUSE] It's a kitty cat.

Speaker 1: A distinct signature is

Speaker 1: rooted more in our culture than in the law.

Speaker 1: It wasn't really a thing until the 20th century.

Speaker 1: Penmanship was standardized in

Speaker 1: schools for technique and legibility.

Speaker 1: Handwriting lessons reinforced discipline and order.

Speaker 1: The personalized signature was a form of expression,

Speaker 1: a way to rebel with pen and ink.

Speaker 1: Signatures became linked to identity,

Speaker 1: and autographs became a way to

Speaker 1: memorialize celebrities and athletes.

Speaker 1: Disney Motion Pictures built

Speaker 1: its entire brand around Walt Disney signature.

Speaker 1: It also happens to be a decent way

Speaker 1: of snuffing out bank fraud.

Speaker 1: Banks used to have rooms of people

Speaker 1: comparing signatures on checks.

Speaker 1: Clerks would verify hundreds of signatures an hour.

Speaker 1: But it can be really difficult to spot a forgery,

Speaker 1: like those autographs from earlier?

Speaker 1: They're fakes, part of a forgery ring that was only

Speaker 1: broken up after a years long FBI sting operation.

Speaker 1: Technology has dramatically improved

Speaker 1: fraud prevention and detection.

Speaker 1: Pin numbers and chip cards have

Speaker 1: made signature's less necessary.

Speaker 1: The need for handwriting

Speaker 1: overall has dropped significantly.

Speaker 1: Only 10 states require

Speaker 1: elementary students to be taught cursive.

Speaker 1: As a result, we just don't care about

Speaker 1: what our signatures look like anymore.

Speaker 1: Who has it been like, "Yeah.

Speaker 1: Sure FedEx man, my signature

Speaker 1: is just a half-written squiggly line.

Speaker 1: Just give me my package."

Speaker 1: And who really needs an autograph anymore?

Speaker 1: Millennials were panned for turning

Speaker 1: their backs on candidate Hillary Clinton to

Speaker 1: snap selfies after this campaign photo went viral.

Speaker 1: In the 21st century convenience is a top priority,

Speaker 1: along with streamlined signature free transactions,

Speaker 1: we also got more convenient elections.

Speaker 1: Since 1998, 22 states have allowed

Speaker 1: for some form of mail-in or absentee voting,

Speaker 1: and it accounted for almost a quarter of

Speaker 1: all votes cast in the 2016 election.

Speaker 1: This is generally a good thing because by

Speaker 1: mail voting has been linked to higher voter turnout,

Speaker 1: but mail-in voters are required to sign

Speaker 1: their ballots in order for them to be counted.

Speaker 1: That signature is verified against

Speaker 1: the signature the state has on file,

Speaker 1: usually from the DMV.

Speaker 1: Here's my signature from when I sign my license at 16,

Speaker 1: and here it is now, pretty different.

Speaker 1: Non-matching signature's was

Speaker 1: the number one reason for mail in

Speaker 1: ballots being rejected in the 2016 election,

Speaker 1: but almost no one has

Speaker 1: a consistent signature anymore, no one.

Speaker 1: Walt Disney's signature changed

Speaker 1: throughout the course of his entire lifetime.

Speaker 1: His iconic signature was actually penned after his death.

Speaker 1: Take another look at my license,

Speaker 1: but don't look at my license picture. Thank you.

Speaker 1: It was also signed by Eric Boyette,

Speaker 1: the North Carolina Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.

Speaker 1: Here's the signature again on

Speaker 1: a federal grant application,

Speaker 1: it's almost as if you can hear him say

Speaker 1: "meh" as he scribbled this one.

Speaker 1: Evaluating a signature is left mostly

Speaker 1: to the discretion of elections officials.

Speaker 1: States provide very few guidelines

Speaker 1: on how to compare signatures,

Speaker 1: other than encouraging officials

Speaker 1: to use their best judgment.

Speaker 1: A federal judge in 2018

Speaker 1: declared New Hampshire's process of

Speaker 1: evaluating signatures on ballots

Speaker 1: fundamentally flawed and unconstitutional.

Speaker 1: Elections officials there were given

Speaker 1: no training in handwriting analysis.

Speaker 1: [MUSIC] This process disproportionately

Speaker 1: affects young voters,

Speaker 1: who are four times more likely to

Speaker 1: have their ballots rejected because

Speaker 1: of non-matching signatures according to the ACLU.

Speaker 1: In New Hampshire, an elections moderator

Speaker 1: gave sworn testimony that he was

Speaker 1: more forgiving of inconsistent signatures on

Speaker 1: absentee ballots that were postmarked from nursing homes.

Speaker 1: It's great that grandma gets the benefit of the doubt,

Speaker 1: but the granddaughter doesn't,

Speaker 1: whose closest thing to having a consistent signature is

Speaker 1: consistently using the puppy dog filter

Speaker 1: in her snapchat stories.

Speaker 1: Absentee ballots make up

Speaker 1: a very small percentage of voting totals,

Speaker 1: but they have the potential to really

Speaker 1: matter in close races.

Speaker 1: In the very tight 2018 midterms in Georgia in Florida,

Speaker 1: officials rejected ballots with mismatched signatures,

Speaker 1: but didn't inform the affected voters.

Speaker 1: Judges had to issue injunctions to

Speaker 1: give those voters time to fix their ballots.

Speaker 1: So, if you do happen to have

Speaker 1: to sign for something, go wild!

Speaker 1: Make whatever mark you want,

Speaker 1: but maybe practice your John Hancock

Speaker 1: for election day [MUSIC].