In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Virginia filed a federal lawsuit on April 17, 2020, challenging Virginia’s “witness requirement.” Under Virginia law, any voter who submits an absentee ballot by mail must open the envelope containing the ballot in front of another person, fill out the ballot, and then have that other person sign the outside of the ballot envelope before it is mailed back.

The ACLU is asking the court to block the state from enforcing the witness requirement while COVID-19 emergency orders are in place and/or community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring, and order it to issue guidance instructing city and county election officials to count otherwise validly cast absentee ballots that are missing a witness signature. The pandemic means that the witness requirement would disenfranchise tens of thousands of eligible voters in Virginia who cannot risk contact with other individuals to vote in person or obtain a witness signature on their absentee ballot.

“Removing the witness requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic is a common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote during this crisis. No one should be forced to choose between staying safe and casting a ballot. It is a false choice. We can have both,” said Davin Rosborough, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

The case was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individuals.

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