Lawsuit: Minnesota witness requirement for absentee ballots could cause COVID-19 exposure

A Minnesota voting rights group is suing the Secretary of State of Minnesota over the state's requirement for a witness to sign a voter's absentee ballot.

In order to vote by mail, the voter needs to complete their ballot in front of a witness, who then must sign the signature envelope and list their address. The witness can be either a registered Minnesota voter or a notary.

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the League of Women Voters of Minnesota Education Fund stated this requirement makes Minnesota "especially vulnerable to the risk of suppressed voter participation during the COVID-19 pandemic." LWV leaders say the witness requirement is concerning for voters with health risks as well as those who may not already be in close contact with someone qualified to serve as a ballot witness. 

"Voters of color, senior voters, and voters with underlying conditions are at greater risk of complications from the COVID-19 virus," said Michelle Witte, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, in a press release. "The current law requiring an absentee ballot witness unnecessarily exposes them to greater risk of contracting this deadly virus. In addition, the requirement to have the witness be a registered MN voter is also a barrier for college students and others living out of state temporarily."

The League of Women Voters also argues that the state currently has existing safeguards to authenticate absentee ballots other than ballot witness signatures.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has pushed for voters to request absentee ballots for the 2020 election, saying it is the "right thing to do to protect Minnesotans who are most at risk". FOX 9 has reached out to the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office for comment in response to the lawsuit.