Court decision waives witness signature requirement for absentee ballots

2020 Election

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — Absentee voters in Virginia will not have to obtain a signature from a witness before submitting their ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

This allows Virginians to safely vote from home without having to possibly risk exposure to COVID-19.

“Voting is essential to our democracy and should be safe and easy to do, even in a pandemic,” said Eden Heilman, legal director for the ACLU of Virginia.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia and several voters sued the Virginia Department of Elections ahead of the June 23 election and successfully ensured that voters would be able to vote without a witness present. They filed a second motion to allow voters that same option in the upcoming election. The United States District Court approved their settlement today.

The court decision guarantees that any absentee ballot cast in the November Election without a witness signature will not be rejected on that basis. The decision also requires the Department of Elections to specifically inform voters that they do not need the signature if they are unable to safely have someone present.

“Getting rid of the witness requirement is a simple way to keep absentee voters safe without sacrificing the safety of our election,” Heilman said. “No one should have to risk their health to vote.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and his office fought to get the court’s approval of the consent decree allowing the absentee ballots to be sent without the witness signature.

“This agreement is another big win for Virginia voters and for democracy, and it’s another important step in ensuring that we can have free, fair, safe elections this fall despite the challenges presented by the COVID pandemic,” said Herring in a news release from his office. “Safe voting has been one of my top priorities for the last six months because no one should ever have to choose between their health and their fundamental right to cast their vote.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia also praised the outcome.

“Nobody should have to choose between their health and their right to vote. Eliminating the absentee ballot witness requirement is essential to making sure every Virginian can vote as safely, easily, and effectively as possible this year. Our Attorney General Mark Herring has worked tirelessly on this issue to and I’m proud that he has secured another victory for Virginia voters today,” said DPVA Chair Susan Swecker.

The Republican party opposed the agreement, but a judge in the case ruled that “the RPV has not brought forth any evidence that would permit the Court to overcome its presumption of good faith and fair dealing in the settlement negotiations between the Plaintiffs’ and State Defendants—instead, it relies on speculation and circumstantial evidence.”

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