State wants emergency Alaska Supreme Court ruling on whether to keep witness requirement for absentee ballots

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 2:43 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The State of Alaska wants the Alaska Supreme Court to make an emergency ruling on the lawsuit that seeks to eliminate the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots.

A Superior Court judge said on Monday that the witness requirement for absentee ballots “impermissibly burdens the right to vote” for the Nov. 3 general election. Judge Dani Crosby signaled that it would be eliminated after both parties said how that change could be communicated to voters.

Under Alaska statute, voters must have someone 18 years or older witness them signing the envelope containing their absentee ballot. The witness must also sign the envelope themselves.

The petition to the Alaska Supreme Court, filed on behalf of the Division of Elections, says that voters could be disenfranchised if a court upholds the witness requirement and confused voters send in ballots without a witness signature.

The Department of Law is asking that the Alaska Supreme Court meet before Oct. 12 to make a ruling on the case.

“The mission of the Division of Elections is to ensure public confidence in the electoral process by administering voter registration and elections with the highest level of professional standards, integrity, security, accuracy and fairness,” Maria Bahr, a spokesperson for the Department of Law, said by email. “The Alaska legislature has created a statutory scheme to govern elections and provided tools to ensure a secure and fair election, including the witness signature requirement for absentee ballots. The Division of Elections is bound to follow the law as established by the legislature, and we need a decision from the Alaska Supreme Court on this issue to have finality before a statute that has been in place for decades is modified for this election.”

Four civil rights groups filed the lawsuit in September on behalf of two elderly Alaskan voters who are immunocompromised and live alone. The suit alleges that a witness requirement for absentee ballots could disenfranchise the two voters who are concerned about contracting COVID-19.

Crosby agreed with the civil rights groups in her decision. “If the Witness Requirement is not eliminated, it will force Plaintiffs and other voters to choose between risking their health by coming into contact with a witness or forgo their right to vote entirely,” Crosby wrote.

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