Minnesota Drops Witness Requirements That Put Voters at Risk During COVID-19 Pandemic

August 3, 2020 5:30 pm

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The state of Minnesota has agreed to eliminate witness/notary requirements for vote by mail throughout the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A court signed off on the agreement today.

The state’s action follows a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Minnesota, and Faegre Drinker on behalf of the NAACP and individual voters.

The lawsuit in part asked that a requirement that forces voters to get a witness/notary to sign their ballot envelope be suspended due to the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Ramsey County District Judge Sara Grewing wrote in her order: “By requiring voters who live alone to place their lives and health in danger in order to exercise their fundamental right to vote, it is reasonable to conclude that the witness requirement impermissibly and irrationally denies the fundamental right to those individuals while there is still ongoing community transmission of COVID-19.”

The judge noted that it’s undisputed that the consent decree is non-partisan, and it gives the state plenty of time to “provide instruction and certainty to voters and local election officials before absentee voting begins.”

The following is reaction to today’s order:

Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said: “This agreement is a victory for Minnesotans who can’t risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to secure a signature on a ballot. This agreement is a sensible solution that will help protect Minnesotans’ health and their right to vote.”

ACLU of Minnesota staff attorney David McKinney said: “We’re pleased that the court approved this agreement, which will remove barriers to voting in the general election for Minnesota voters, especially people who live alone or who are at high risk for COVID-19. No one should have to choose between their health and their fundamental right to vote.”

NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference President William Jordan Jr. said: “This decision is a step in the right direction that places voters and constituents at the center of elections. As we continue to navigate through this COVID-19 pandemic and alternate reality, we must continue to be malleable to the needs of the community. The health and safety of the electorate during this critical time should be of great concern to all of us.”

The lawsuit, NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference v. Simon, was filed in Ramsey County District Court in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Order: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/order-4

Statement: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/minnesota-drops-witness-requirements-put-voters-risk-during-covid-19-pandemic

Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/naacp-minnesota-dakotas-area-state-conference-v-simon

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