Campaign Legal Center is representing the League of Women Voters of Minnesota (LWVMN), as well as an individual Minnesota voter, in a federal lawsuit seeking to suspend Minnesota’s witness requirement for absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic and permanently loosen restrictions on who can serve as a ballot witness.
In Minnesota and around the country, millions of Americans—especially those over 65 and those with certain underlying health conditions—are avoiding contact with people outside their households. Health experts agree that this social distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Under these conditions, it is essential that Minnesotans be able to vote safely by mail.
Unfortunately, Minnesota law does not fully accommodate the need to practice social distancing while voting. Any voter in Minnesota may vote by absentee ballot, but to do so, the voter must obtain a signature from a witness. Only a registered Minnesota voter, a notary, or another official authorized to administer oaths can act as a witness. This means voters who do not live with a qualified witness must interact with someone outside their household in order to vote by mail. In effect, they must choose between their safety and their vote.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes Minnesota’s witness requirement more burdensome than ever before. But the problems with this law did not begin with COVID-19. Even under normal public health conditions, Minnesota’s restrictions on who can witness a ballot can make it difficult or impossible for some voters to find a witness—especially for Minnesotans who temporarily live out of state and away from other registered Minnesota voters. These restrictions also irrationally discriminate against non-U.S. citizens, who cannot serve as ballot witnesses unless they become notaries or government officials.
On May 18, 2020, CLC filed a complaint on behalf of LWVMN and a Minnesota voter in federal court. The lawsuit seeks a court order temporarily suspending the witness requirement, allowing Minnesotans to vote by mail while social distancing during the pandemic. The suit also asks the Court to order that, in future elections after the witness requirement goes back into effect, any competent adult may serve as a witness—not just registered Minnesota voters, notaries, and government officials.