ST. PAUL, MN—Today, parties in League of Women Voters of Minnesota Education Fund, et al. v. Simon reached an agreement to suspend the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballots. U.S. District Judge Eric C. Tostrud has set a hearing for Thursday on the joint request to enter the agreement as an enforceable court order.
“We are thrilled the state saw the urgent need to suspend the witness requirement during the ongoing global pandemic,” said Michelle Witte, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. “Today’s agreement is a victory for voters across the state, especially senior voters and voters with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to complications from COVID-19. Those living out of state temporarily, like college students, are also protected with today’s settlement.”
Under the agreement, Minnesota’s Secretary of State will issue guidance instructing local election officials to send a notice to all absentee voters, informing them that their votes will count in the August primary regardless of whether they obtain a witness signature. The Secretary also agreed to educate the public about this temporary change.
Filed on May 19, League of Women Voters of Minnesota Education Fund v. Simon seeks to suspend Minnesota’s witness requirement for absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and permanently loosen restrictions on who can serve as a ballot witness. Minnesota law ordinarily requires absentee voters to obtain the signature of a witness, who must be a registered Minnesota voter, a notary, or another official authorized to give oaths.
The League of Women Voters of Minnesota is joined in this case by individual plaintiff Vivian Latimer Tanniehill, a 67-year-old Minnesota voter whose compromised immune system puts her in a high-risk category for severe illness from COVID-19. Vivian would be obligated by the existing law to breach her self-isolation to obtain a witness for her ballot, putting herself in danger of infection.
“I am very excited about this agreement and believe it is a win-win for everyone,” said Ms. Tanniehill. “I am thrilled that we were able to remove the barrier for seniors and people with underlying health conditions, and we no longer must choose between our health and exercising our right to vote. Thank you to the legal team and the State for coming to a decision that helps all Minnesotans who wish to exercise their right to vote.”
Plaintiffs are represented by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and Lanthrop GPM.
“This is a win for Minnesota voters, particularly seniors and people with underlying health conditions that are at higher risk for getting seriously sick from COVID-19,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC. “The fact that both parties came to an agreement is an example of how it’s possible for states to protect the right to vote, promote public health, and maintain the integrity of elections at the same time. Constitutional rights cannot be conditioned on an individual’s willingness to subject themselves and their families to a heightened risk of contracting a potentially deadly virus.”
Minnesota’s primary election is scheduled for August 11, and the last day to register for that election online or by mail is July 21. Voters can also register in-person up to and on Election Day. Absentee voting begins June 26.
Contact: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]
The Latest from the League
The League of Women Voters of Minnesota Education Fund filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballot signatures.
A federal judge has ruled in League of Women Voters of Virginia, et al. v. Virginia State Board of Elections that the witness requirement for absentee ballots is waived for the state’s June primary.
Today the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin filed litigation in federal court seeking to protect the rights of self-quarantining voters who cannot safely obtain a witness signature on their mail-in ballot during the COVID-19 pandemic.