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WASHINGTON, D.C. October 5, 2020– Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced today that he is leading a group of 18 state Attorneys General in supporting a challenge to a South Carolina law that requires a witness signature for voters to cast their ballots by mail. The lawsuit, filed by a group of South Carolina voters and political organizations, claims that the witness requirement puts the health and safety of voters at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in Middleton v. Andino in the U.S. Supreme Court, the multistate coalition opposes this requirement, arguing that states have a responsibility to tailor their election rules to protect voter participation and voter safety during the pandemic. The brief, filed two days after defendants sought Supreme Court intervention, also argues that voter fraud is extremely rare, and there is no evidence that requiring a witness signature for mail-in ballots prevents fraud.
“Voting by mail is a safe and effective way for voters to exercise their civic duty,” said AG Racine. “Requiring voters to secure a witness signature for mail-in ballots is an unnecessary burden that unfairly requires voters to decide whether to risk exposure to COVID-19 to vote or sit this election out. Our coalition of Attorneys General will work quickly to ensure voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”
In May 2020, a group of South Carolina voters and political organizations filed a lawsuit challenging a state absentee voting requirement because the requirement would put their health at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The provision requires absentee voters to swear and affirm, in the presence of a witness, that they are qualified to vote, have not yet voted, are returning their ballot in the designated envelope, signed the envelope, and received no improper assistance. The district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the requirement for the June 2020 primaries and subsequently blocked the provision for the general election as well. The defendants appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which, after considering the case as a full court, declined to stay the district court’s injunction. The defendants then moved for a stay at the Supreme Court on Thursday, and the District brought together an 18-state coalition to file a brief opposing this stay on Saturday.
In the amicus brief, the coalition supports the plaintiffs’ challenge to South Carolina’s vote-by-mail witness requirement because:
- States have a responsibility to protect voter participation and voter safety: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. During the pandemic, states and localities have taken reasonable, common-sense steps to minimize in-person interactions for voters.Most states are permitting all voters to vote by mail amid the pandemic; many have sent vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter; and others, like the District, plan to affirmatively send ballots to all registered voters. Other states have—either temporarily or permanently—abolished notarization and witness requirements for mail-in ballots.
- Voter fraud is rare and there is no evidence that witness requirements are needed to prevent it: As a general matter, vote-by-mail fraud is exceptionally rare. Five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—already had all-mail voting systems prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in which every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail. None of these states require a witness signature, and yet none has encountered widespread voter fraud since shifting to mail-in ballots.
- States have mechanisms to protect the integrity of elections other than witness requirements: States have several mail-in voting safeguards available to them, including using ballots with a unique bar code that, once returned and scanned, prevent the voter from casting another ballot in the election. States also generally require voters to sign the ballot envelope, which can be matched against information from voter rolls to verify their identity. Another common layer of security are secure drop-off locations which help maintain a chain of custody for mail-in ballots.
The brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-10/Andino-v-Middleton-Amicus.pdf
AG Racine is leading today’s friend-of-the-court brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Protecting Voter Participation
In August 2020, AG Racine filed a lawsuit and secured a preliminary injunction stopping U.S. Postal Service cuts that threatened the right to vote for millions of Americans planning to vote by mail during the pandemic. In September, he also led a multistate coalition to defend a Texas county clerk’s decision to send mail-in voting applications to registered voters. Recently, AG Racine also led coalitions of Attorneys General opposing unfair voting restrictions against returning citizens in Florida and North Carolina.
Voting in the District of Columbia
District residents can find information about registering to vote and voting by mail or in person in the November election on the D.C. Board of Elections website: https://www.dcboe.org/. In the District, all active voters will be mailed a ballot and do not need a witness signature to submit their mail-in ballot. Voters can return their mail-in ballot by mail using the enclosed prepaid envelope, but it must be postmarked by Election Day and arrive no later than Nov. 13. Voters can also drop off their ballot at one of dozens of drop box locations before 8:00 p.m. on Election Day or at one of the vote centers during early voting or on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will start to arrive during the first week of October, but if voters do not receive a ballot by October 21, officials recommend planning to vote in person.
If voters don’t plan to vote by mail, they can find convenient early vote and Election Day vote centers online, which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. during early voting and from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Registered voters can vote at any of the vote centers during early voting and on Election Day.
OAG also recently published a D.C. Voter Checklist to encourage residents to make a plan to vote.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) works to protect and defend District residents, enforce District laws, and provide legal advice to D.C. government agencies. Karl A. Racine leads OAG as the first elected Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Visit www.oag.dc.gov to learn more.