(Anchorage, Alaska) – Alaska’s witness signature requirement for casting an absentee ballot is unconstitutional, and immediate injunctive and declaratory relief must be granted, a state lawsuit filed today against Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer, Director of the Alaska Division of Elections Gail Fenumiai, and the Alaska Division of Elections argues. The lawsuit seeks to waive a provision of a state law for the upcoming general election that requires voters who submit a mail-in ballot to have a witness sign their ballot return envelope, even in the midst of the highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
The litigation, Arctic Village Council et al. v Meyer et al., was filed in U.S. Superior Court for the Third Judicial District at Anchorage. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is representing the Arctic Village Council, League of Women Voters of Alaska and two eligible, registered voters who intend to vote by mail.
The suit claims that the witness signature requirement places a significant burden on the fundamental right to vote, because people will have to risk their health and well-being to vote, or not cast their ballot at all. Allowing the witness requirement could disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters in Alaska who cannot risk contact with other individuals to vote in-person or obtain a witness signature on their absentee ballot. A preliminary injunction was also filed today that hopes to immediately abolish the requirement and guarantee voters the ability to vote-by-mail.
“It is in no way permissible to force residents to sacrifice their health and well-being just to exercise their right to vote, but that is exactly what’s happening because Alaska’s highest election officials have failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that residents can vote safely amid the pandemic,” said Pooja Chaudhuri, associate counsel at the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “With the election just weeks away, we are turning to the court to provide immediate relief and defend the right to vote for people all across Alaska. We live in a Democracy, and a key component of our society is giving everyone the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
Alaska’s Witness Signature Requirement forces interaction on those who live alone, are immunocompromised, or have been self-isolating since the beginning of the pandemic. These voters reasonably fear contracting COVID-19 and have chosen not to be in the presence of others. Because of the requirement, they will either have to interact with other citizens, or not cast their ballot at all. Among the communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are Native Americans and Alaska Natives.
Last week, the ACLU of Alaska, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Native American Rights Fund sent a letter to Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai asking they exercise their power to protect the health of Alaskans and our democracy by waiving the needless requirement.
In a response from Meyer on Friday, he refused to make this necessary change and was unwilling to protect the votes of every Alaskan. He, Fenumiai, and the Alaska Division of Elections are now named as defendants in this lawsuit.
Read the full lawsuit.
Read the preliminary injunction.