Voters Must Be Protected from Virus Exposure When Casting Absentee Ballots
ST. PAUL, MN—Today, the League of Women Voters of Minnesota Education Fund filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s witness requirement for absentee ballot signatures. Amid the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, many voters cannot obtain a ballot witness without compromising their health. Further, the state’s requirements for who may witness absentee ballots are too restrictive and thus violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
“As more voters choose to cast absentee ballots amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they must have assurance that they can do so safely,” said Michelle Witte, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota. “Voters of color, senior voters, and voters with underlying conditions are at greater risk of complications from the COVID-19 virus. The current law requiring an absentee ballot witness unnecessarily exposes them to greater risk of contracting this deadly virus. In addition, the requirement to have the witness be a registered MN voter is also a barrier for college students and others living out of state temporarily.”
The law in question is at odds with the state’s own guidance on voting during the pandemic. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has encouraged the use of absentee voting, saying in a press release on May 13 that he was “challenging all eligible Minnesota voters to cast their vote from the safety of their home.” Many voters cannot maintain recommended social distance while obtaining a witness for their ballot.
“The coronavirus pandemic has introduced new uncertainty and fear into our elections, and it is the duty of our election officials to provide assurances to voters that their health will be protected,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Now, more than ever, we must dispel with undue burdens in our voting system, especially those that needlessly obligate voters to expose themselves to potential risk.”
Minnesota already has safeguards in place for voter ballot verification besides a signature witness. State law requires trained election officials to authenticate absentee ballots in a number of reliable ways, including name, address, and ID verification.
The League of Women Voters is joined in this case by an individual Minnesota resident and League member, Vivian Latimer Tanniehill, and is represented by Campaign Legal Center and Lathrop GPM.
“It is critical to American democracy and to protect public health that all voters have the choice to vote absentee for the November 2020 election,” said Paul Smith, vice president at CLC. “All eligible voters should be able to vote without barriers. Minnesotans’ constitutional right to vote cannot be conditioned on their willingness to subject themselves, their families, and their communities to a heightened risk of COVID-19.”
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]
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