ST. PAUL, Minn. — The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Minnesota, and Faegre Drinker LLP are suing Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon seeking to make voting safer in Minnesota in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the NAACP and individual voters, is asking that absentee ballots be sent to all registered voters, and that a requirement that forces voters to get a witness to sign their ballot envelope be suspended due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
The witness requirement and lack of universal absentee ballots could disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters who cannot risk contact with other individuals to obtain a witness signature on their absentee ballot or to vote in person.
“Removing the witness requirement and providing absentee ballots to registered voters during COVID-19 will protect Minnesotans’ health and their right to vote. These are sensible solutions,” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
The lawsuit notes that as “elected officials make decisions of extraordinary impact to the lives and welfare of the state’s residents, the pandemic has only magnified the critical importance of the right to participate in our elections. Despite widespread public support for voting by mail, the Legislature has nonetheless refused to make any accommodation to ensure that the right to vote is not unnecessarily or unreasonably burdened by the profound risks to individual health, public health, and access to the ballot box caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Racial justice depends in part on voting access,” said ACLU of Minnesota staff attorney David McKinney. “Because COVID-19 poses a unique and lethal threat to every Minnesotan, especially people of color, the elderly, people who live alone, and people with certain underlying health conditions, we are seeking greater ballot access in this year’s election. No Minnesotan should have to choose between the right to vote and their health.”
“Fundamentally, this case is about the ability of voters to exercise the franchise our heroes fought so long and hard to secure,” said NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference President William Jordan Jr. “Elections go forward, even in times of crisis. States have a responsibility to ensure voting is as safe and accessible as possible, and that includes offering multiple ways to safely cast a ballot. We can't afford to sacrifice our democracy to a pandemic.”
The lawsuit, NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference v. Simon, cites violations of the Minnesota Constitution and state laws. It was filed in Ramsey County District Court in Saint Paul, Minnesota.