The Alaska Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that waives the witness requirement for Alaskans who submit absentee ballots.
The state’s Supreme Court issued a brief decision on Monday after hearing arguments in the case, which was brought forward by the Arctic Village Council, two individuals, and the League of Women Voters of Alaska, according to the Associated Press.
The ruling means that voters will no longer be required to have a witness over the age of 18 to confirm their vote. The decision comes 22 days before the general election. More than 110,000 absentee ballots have been sent out across the Last Frontier, and about 11,000 of those have already been returned, according to the state’s Division of Elections.
The state of Alaska argued in favor of keeping the ballot witness requirement, with attorney Laura Fox arguing that the sudden rule change after voting has already commenced could “cause confusion and distrust.”
The argument for trashing the witness requirement was that the coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult to vote safely and some residents don’t live with someone who is able to act as a witness when they vote absentee. Alaska is a large state, with some communities of just dozens of people located miles away from other municipalities.
Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby, the lower court judge in the case, ruled on Oct. 5 that given the health crisis, the witness signature mandate “impermissibly burdens the right to vote.”
During Monday’s oral arguments in the case, Natalie Landreth of the Native American Rights Fund said Arctic Village, a small unincorporated Alaska Native community, is under a stringent coronavirus quarantine, according to the Anchorage Daily News. Landreth argued that if a resident wanted to get a ballot witness, “you have to break quarantine, essentially break the law in Arctic Village.”
Fox countered that those in Arctic Village need to run errands and go to the store to get groceries regardless of coronavirus regulations and that they could just get a signature while out.
The Alaska Division of Elections is reportedly planning to distribute a video instructing Alaskans on how to vote properly by absentee ballot.
The decision comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated a requirement that South Carolina voters need a witness to sign their absentee ballots before they vote by mail. That decision reversed a lower court ruling that the requirement of a witness signature created an undue burden for voters.
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