LYNCHBURG April 17, 2020 – Friday morning, the League of Women Voters of Virginia filed a challenge to the state’s witness signature requirement for absentee ballots. With the increased demand for absentee ballots due to COVID-19, the witness requirement presents a burden for voters’ health and safety.
“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. “Because African American voters are disproportionately impacted by the virus, the witness requirement presents greater risk to this community’s voting rights.”
Prior to filing litigation, election officials were contacted multiple times asking them to clarify what is expected of voters during COVID-19. Following a lack of response, the League filed this lawsuit against the Virginia State Board of Elections, the Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, and the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections in order to resolve the witness requirement question before ballots are cast in the next election.
“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.”
The League is joined in this case by individual Virginia voters and represented by the ACLU of 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.”
Unless the General Assembly acts on the Governor’s request to move municipal elections, Virginia will hold city and town elections May 5. The Governor has delayed the June primaries until June 23. The League is asking for a decision in this case prior to the next Virginia election in May.
The League of Women Voters envisions a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate. We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy.