02 mail-in ballots
CNN  — 

The state of Minnesota has agreed to drop the witness requirement from its mail-in voting process through the 2020 election cycle and extend the deadline for absentee ballots to be received amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ruling eliminates the state’s requirement that voters get a notary or witness to sign their ballot envelope, and allows for absentee ballots to be counted if they are postmarked on or before Election Day and received by 8 p.m. within one week of Election Day. The previous rule was that ballots had to be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

Ramsey County District Judge Sara Grewing wrote in a ruling on Monday: “It is reasonable for the Secretary to conclude that this waiver of the witness requirement and Election Day deadline is in the best interests of the health, safety, and constitutional rights of Minnesota’s voters, and, therefore, in the public interest.”

“In this unusual global crisis, it is more than reasonable to conclude that a ballot placed with the United States Postal Service quite possibly might not be delivered until on Election Day. It is reasonable for the Secretary to conclude that a ballot posted on or before Election Day should be counted,” Grewing wrote.

The move to eliminate the witness requirement was made in response to concerns that the rule could heighten voter exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Grewing wrote in the order, “It is reasonable to conclude that the witness requirement impermissibly and irrationally denies the fundamental right to those individuals while there is still ongoing community transmission of COVID-19.”

Grewing, however, denied a separate request that would have required mail-in ballots to be sent to all registered voters in the state automatically.

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“As distinguished from the witness requirement, it is difficult to imagine the application process being any easier than as currently provided for in state law,” the court order said.

“While it is undoubtedly more convenient for Plaintiffs’ members to receive a ballot in the mail without asking for one, the Court cannot conclude as a matter of law that the statute represents an unconstitutional burden on their right to vote.”

The witness requirement agreement marks just the latest example of expanding mail-in voting preparations as states across the country plan for November’s presidential election while still grappling with the coronavirus. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, voting by mail is becoming an increasingly popular option since many voters may prefer not to wait in long lines at polling stations.

Theresa Lee, an ACLU staff attorney, said Monday that the court’s ruling amounted to “a victory for Minnesotans who can’t risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to secure a signature on a ballot.”

“This agreement is a sensible solution that will help protect Minnesotans’ health and their right to vote.”

That message was echoed by NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference President William Jordan Jr., who assessed that the decision is “a step in the right direction that places voters and constituents at the center of elections.”

Still, Monday’s ruling also comes as President Donald Trump has begun laying the groundwork for casting doubt and suspicion on election results if counting mail-in ballots ultimately delays the declaration of a winner.

“I want to have the election. But I also don’t want to have to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing and the election doesn’t mean anything. That’s what’s going to happen,” Trump said last week at a news conference, during which he also called vote-by-mail a “disaster” and argued people should have to cast their votes in person.

“Mail-in ballots will lead to the greatest fraud,” he said, without evidence.

In reality, there is no evidence that mail-in voting leads to fraud. While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots do occur, it is nowhere near a widespread problem in the US election system.