Alaska Supreme Court Affirms Ruling Waiving Ballot Witness Requirement

October 13, 2020 Updated: October 13, 2020

The Alaska Supreme Court on Oct. 12 affirmed a ruling by a lower court that waived witness requirements for absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

Before Monday’s outcome, Alaskans intending to vote by mail in the upcoming presidential election would have been required to ask a person over the age of 18 to witness and sign their ballots—a requirement which Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby ruled last week “impermissibly burdens the right to vote.”

“Win for voters in Alaska! The state’s Supreme Court affirmed a preliminary injunction ELIMINATING the unconstitutional ballot witness requirement for voters,” Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee, posted on Twitter in response to the ruling. “We’ll keep fighting coast to coast to protect voters from being disenfranchised amid the pandemic.”

Crosby last week waited to put the order into effect, to allow the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The two sides in the matter had agreed to a stay pending Supreme Court review, with the understanding the Division of Elections would make preparations to carry out the order should the state lose the case.

The petition filed to the Supreme Court on behalf of the division said that if the ballot witness requirement were to be upheld, Alaskan voters could be disenfranchised. It also said confused voters could send in their ballots without a signature from a witness.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also argued that the enforcement of the witness requirements during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic effectively barred some people in the state who do not live with someone over the age of 18 from voting.

Maria Bahr, a spokesperson for the Department of Law, said the department, which represented the division, respects the court’s decision.

The division in a release said while voters do not need to get their absentee ballots witnessed for the presidential election, they still must sign the back of the ballot envelope and provide identifying information. The division said it was finalizing a video to help voters with the process.

Laura Fox, an attorney for the state, had asked the Supreme Court to keep in place the witness requirements, arguing that a change in rules, when voting is already underway, “will cause confusion and distrust.”

Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, which also helped represent the plaintiffs, said the Supreme Court “ruled to protect the most fundamental right in our democracy—the right to vote.”

More than 10.5 million people have already cast votes in the 2020 general election, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Data from states that report early voters’ party affiliation shows that more than twice as many Democrats have voted by mail compared to Republicans.

In contrast, as of Oct. 16, 2016, roughly 1.4 million Americans had cast an early vote.

The Elections Project said that the number of ballots cast in the states of Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin has surpassed 20 percent of total turnout in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.