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Minnesota waives requirement for absentee ballot witnesses in primary

The Minnesota SOS has waived the witness requirement and will count ballots postmarked received 2 days after the primary.

The Minnesota Secretary of State has waived its requirement for voters to have witnesses when they complete their absentee ballot for the August primary, as part of a settlement of two lawsuits contending the health risk during the pandemic is too great.

The League of Women Voters of Minnesota and the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans filed lawsuits against the Secretary of State in May. Under the settlements, Secretary of State Steve Simon agreed that mailed-in absentee ballots will not need a witness signature and will be counted as long as they’re postmarked by Aug. 11 – the day of the primary – and received by Aug. 13.

Absentee and in-person voting for the primary begins June 26.

A federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on the League’s case, and a Ramsey County judge has signed off on the consent decree in the Alliance’s case.

A League spokesperson told the Associated Press that they will be keeping the case open in case they decide to pursue it for the presidential election in November.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Simon’s response as a partisan decision that circumvents the legislative process. An election law passed by the Legislature earlier this year affirmed that ballots would have to be received by Election Day.

During negotiations for that bill, Simon had pushed for Minnesota to switch entirely to voting by mail, but Republican lawmakers said that would raise the risk of voter fraud.

"Minnesota has a long history of bipartisan election laws to prevent this kind of blatantly partisan decision making," said Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, in a statement. "Voters expect us to work together to create a fair and equal access voting process, not to play tricks through the courts in order to circumvent the legislature.”

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In a statement, Richard Fiesta, executive director of the national Alliance for Retired Americans, called the decision a “victory for all voters,” especially “those who are most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sixty-six-year-old Red Wing resident Teresa Maples, who was part of the Alliance’s lawsuit, said her serious health conditions prevented her from voting in person. “Knowing I can vote by mail without having to find someone to witness my ballot or worry about the post office delivering my ballot by election day gives me less anxiety during these stressful times,” she said in the statement.

Similar cases are pending in Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota also have a pending lawsuit against the state asking that for the witness requirement to be waived and that absentee ballots be sent to all registered voters in Minnesota. 

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