Judge says she’ll toss the witness signature requirement for Alaskans who vote by mail

A concrete sign with an emblem of the Alaska flag and the words "Nesbett Courthouse". A sidwalk and streetlamps are in the background
Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage on June 9, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby says she intends to issue an injunction to eliminate the witness signature requirement for Alaskans who vote by mail in the November 2020 election, but her order isn’t in effect yet.

Lack of a witness signature is the most common reason the Division of Elections rejects ballots, and for now, the requirement stands

The Arctic Village tribe, the League of Women Voters and others challenged the requirement.

“The message here is that we can’t force the electorate into a choice between their health or their vote,” said Native American Rights Fund attorney Natalie Landreth, one of the lawyers who brought the case.

One in four Alaskans lives alone or without another adult who can witness the ballot, she said.

The witness requirement “is a real big problem for people who are quarantining, who are immunocompromised and who are in a very high-risk age group,” Landreth said. “And this is a lot of people, frankly.”

Judge Crosby agreed with the plaintiffs that requiring ballot witnesses this year would be a severe burden on the right to vote.

She also said she can’t see how the witness signature requirement is an effective tool to detect voter fraud.

The Division of Elections could not name a single instance where it played a role.

Crosby did not immediately issue an order blocking the witness requirement. She said she wanted to give the parties time to suggest what exactly the order should say, and for the state to pursue an appeal.

In the last presidential election, 27,000 Alaskans voted by mail. Many more are expected to do so this year. More than 97,000 Alaskans have received ballots already.

Around the country, hundreds of lawsuits are challenging various rules or trying to impose new ones. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court recently ruled that mailed ballots will be rejected if they are not in a privacy sleeve.

Alaska’s absentee-by-mail ballots come with a privacy sleeve, but using it is optional.

Alaska voters can request a mail-in ballot up to 10 days before the Nov. 3 election. That can be done online at https://absenteeballotapplication.alaska.gov or by calling the Division of Elections at 907-465-4611 or 1-866-952-8683.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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