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MN Waives Mail-in Ballot Witness Requirement This Summer

Political observers say Minnesota's witness requirement for absentee ballots underscores the growing debate over voting by mail during COVID-19 crisis. (Adobe Stock)
Political observers say Minnesota's witness requirement for absentee ballots underscores the growing debate over voting by mail during COVID-19 crisis. (Adobe Stock)
June 25, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- For now, Minnesota voters using absentee ballots will not need a witness for the August primaries. The Secretary of State is waiving the requirement as legal wrangling over the issue continues.

Minnesota law requires people voting by mail to have another registered voter sign as a witness. But several groups contend that requirement should be lifted, because of health risks associated with the pandemic.

Jonathan Diaz, legal counsel for voting rights with the Campaign Legal Center, is representing the League of Women Voters in a lawsuit challenging the statute.

"For voters who don't have an eligible witness already in their household, the witness requirement basically forces them to choose between either interacting with somebody outside of their household and exposing themselves to the risk of COVID-19, or not voting at all," Diaz explained.

A ruling from a separate lawsuit endorsed lifting the requirement, and the Secretary of State plans to waive it this August because of that decision.

However, in the League of Women Voters' case, the judge declined to grant a consent decree that would ease such rules. The judge said the decree didn't match the level of concern raised by the plaintiffs.

The Minnesota Republican Party has voiced opposition to not enforcing the rule, saying the safeguard protects against fraud.

However, according to Diaz, they will continue to fight against having the third-party witness requirement for the November election. He said the judge's ruling in his case didn't slam the door on their efforts.

"He didn't give an opinion or make a ruling on the merits of our case," Diaz said. "He just declined to order this specific release he requested."

As for the August primary, Diaz says the state's waiver ensures there will not be a witness requirement, barring another court ruling.

Early voting for the primary begins Friday, June 26. On Aug. 11, Minnesota voters will select nominees for U.S. Senate and congressional races, as well as state legislative contests.

Minnesota is among about a dozen states that require a witness or notarized signature for mail-in ballots.


Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN