VICTORY: Alaskans will not need a witness to sign their absentee ballots for the November general election because of COVID-19, the Alaska Supreme Court decided Monday, October 12.
Alaska’s witness signature requirement for casting an absentee ballot is unconstitutional, and immediate injunctive and declaratory relief must be granted, a lawsuit filed on September 8, 2020 against Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer, Director of the Alaska Division of Elections Gail Fenumiai, and the Alaska Division of Elections argues. The lawsuit (Arctic Village Council, et al. v. Meyer) seeks to waive a provision of a state law for the upcoming general election that requires voters who submit a mail-in ballot to have a witness sign their ballot return envelope, even in the midst of the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The suit claims that the witness signature requirement places a significant burden on the fundamental right to vote, because people will have to risk their health and well-being to vote, or not cast their ballot at all. Allowing the witness requirement could disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters in Alaska who cannot risk contact with other individuals to vote in-person or obtain a witness signature on their absentee ballot. A preliminary injunction was also filed today that hopes to immediately abolish the requirement and guarantee voters the ability to vote-by-mail.
Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Wesley Furlong explained, “There are elders and Alaska Natives across the state who live alone and are protecting their health and community by staying home. How are they supposed to get a witness signature? The State of Alaska should be helping people vote during a pandemic, not making them choose between their health and their right to vote.”