The Alaska Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling against Alaska’s law that seeks to maintain the integrity of absentee voting by requiring the signature of one witness to verify the identity of the absentee voter.
The high court issued a ruling dated Oct. 12, which orders the state to abandon its long-standing practice of requiring an absentee voter to sign their ballot in the presence of someone who is age 18 years or older and to have that person sign as a witness to attest to the identity of the voter.
The case was decided by Supreme Court Justices Daniel Winfree, Dario Borghesan, Susan Carney and Chief Justice Joel Boldger.
The Supreme Court sided with Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby, who issued a preliminary injunction on Oct. 5 against the law but did not reject it outright because she did not want to create chaos and confusion before the state appealed her decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.
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Plaintiffs in the case asserted that requiring witness signatures for absentee ballots unduly burdens voters who are worried that they might catch COVID-19.
The state argued that the plaintiffs waited too long to file suit, saying they could have done so months ago when Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a public health emergency back in March.
The state noted that it would have to retrain election employees on short notice to disregard the lack of witness verification signatures on absentee ballots.
Crosby did admit the state had an added burden with the general election approaching in less than a month. She noted the hardship the state faced in launching a public education program, altering its ballot practices and possibly needing to “send out tens of thousands of new mailings to absentee voters, all while preparing for the General Election during a pandemic.” She also acknowledged an Alaska Supreme Court ruling in which the court held there is simply no way for the state’s interests to be adequately protected if a preliminary injunction will prevent it from administering an election pursuant to its own election laws.
For its part the state maintains that witness signature requirements protect against voter fraud and preserves public confidence in the validity of absentee voting.