[Image courtesy of caitierosie]
The curlicue letters of cursive handwriting, once considered a mainstay of American elementary education, have been slowly disappearing from classrooms for years. Now, with most states adopting new national standards that don't require such instruction, cursive could soon be eliminated at most public schools.
For many students, cursive is becoming as foreign as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. In college lecture halls, more students take notes on laptops and tablet computers than with pens and notepads. Responding to handwritten letters from grandparents in cursive is no longer necessary as they, too, learn how to use email, Facebook and Skype.
And educators, seeking to prepare students for a successful future in which computer and typing skills have usurped penmanship, are finding cursive's relevance waning, especially with leaner school budgets and curricula packed with standardized testing prep. So they're opting not to teach it anymore.
In one sense, a story like this is a curiosity - an opportunity for people of a certain age to tut-tut about "kids today". [I wouldn't be one of them, even if I wanted to; my hands are not clean - that image above isn't my handwriting but it could be.]
But Dean observes - and rightly so - that the decline of cursive or handwriting in general is incredibly significant for election administration. In particular, changes in handwriting likely will imperil the reliance of the election system on handwritten signatures to help identify voters. As a new generation of voters enters the rolls unaccustomed to signing documents - or if they do, using a stylus or their finger to sign electronically - it will change the ability of election offices to use signatures to match or identify voters on vote by mail ballots and registration rolls.
What will replace the signature? It isn't yet clear; while voters could use PINs or other forms of digital ID to authenticate themselves, the election systems isn't yet set up to provide such information or protect its security from accidental or malicious release.
It does seem clear, however, that Dean is right - the time is now to think about alternatives to the so-called "wet ink" signature as a means to identify or validate voters. The trend away from handwriting instruction may be a good thing or a bad thing - but ignoring that trend is a recipe for confusion for election officials and voters alike.