|Virginia requires voters to open and mark their ballots in the presence of a witness, and the witness must sign the envelope. Voters need to be able to cast their ballots without endangering their health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing is critical. In state and local elections held during the current crisis, more voters are voting absentee. The requirement to have an absentee ballot signed by a witness raises a barrier to voting for those who live alone: a health risk, particularly for voters with medical issues.
“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.”
We call on the State Board of Elections and the Commissioner of Elections to remove the witness signature requirement during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“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.”
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.”
ACLU-VA 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.