LWV sues to remove voting barrier during COVID-19

2020 election vote
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The ACLU of Virginia filed a federal lawsuit today challenging Virginiawitness requirement.”

The ACLU is representing the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individuals who will not be able to safely cast their ballots if the signature requirement remains in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

If the witness requirement stands, tens of thousands of Virginia voters will be unable to maintain social distancing recommendations and vote absentee,” said Eden Heilman, legal director at the ACLU of Virginia. The governor and Virginia election officials can and must adapt voting policies to preserve our democracy and keep everyone safe.”

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.

Over a quarter of Virginians age 18 and over live by themselves, and almost a third of Virginians over 65 years of age — one of the groups most vulnerable to COVID-19 — live alone. And the impact of this requirement will also fall heavily on Virginians with disabilities and African Americans, who live alone in larger percentages than the population as a whole and who also are experiencing COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

The witness requirement is not worth [the] massive disenfranchisement of Virginia voters,” the lawsuit states. While election integrity is an important interest, the witness rule does very little if anything — and it is certainly not narrowly tailored — to serve this interest in light of the many other provisions of Virginia law that safeguard absentee voting and penalize those who abuse the process. The fact that Virginia is one of only 11 states that require an individual submitting an absentee ballot to have another adult witness and sign their ballot envelope further underscores the requirements lack of necessity.”

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.

“The witness signature requirement creates a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic and threatens to disenfranchise voters who live alone or otherwise do not have access to a witness for their ballot,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, which has long fought for the right to vote. “Because African American voters are disproportionately impacted by the virus, the witness requirement presents greater risk to this community’s voting rights.”

“No voter should have to choose between casting a ballot and their health and safety,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Across the country, we are looking to our leaders to protect both our health and our voting rights during this pandemic. Today we call for that in Virginia.”

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