Witness signatures will no longer be needed on mail-in ballots in the upcoming municipal election after the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an emergency ordinance Monday night waiving the rule.
“The witness signature requirement may disenfranchise certain voters who are unable to socially distance or otherwise find a qualified witness as the result of the pandemic,” the ordinance says. “(City law) requires the election official to review by-mail ballots and verify the signature of the voter, providing safeguards in ensuring the registered voter casted the by-mail ballot.”
The city decided to conduct its municipal elections in October entirely by mail due to concern for having large groups of people gathering together during the COVID-19 pandemic. But ballots typically require two signatures, one from the voter and another from someone over 18 who can serve as witness to the voter. Some Assembly members were concerned certain restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 could also make it difficult for some to obtain a witness signature.
The city is conducting its elections this year in coordination with the Municipality of Anchorage, which has a purpose-built elections center that electronically verifies ballot signature with those in state databases from voter applications, according to the center’s virtual tour. Election personnel compared signatures as well and the center is open to the public on Election Day.
Waiving the signature requirement wasn’t much of a concern, Assembly member Loren Jones said, but making the change so close to an election was. Ballots had already been printed with a certain set of instructions, Jones said, and voters might confuse instructions for the municipal election with those for the statewide and federal elections in November.
“If we want to do this in future elections, I’m all in,” Jones said at the meeting. “You don’t change instructions in the middle of something as important as a vote.”
City Attorney Robert Palmer said Anchorage dropped it’s witness requirement several years ago and while the city typically follows how the state handles elections, he wasn’t aware of any law that actually compelled the city to do so.
Information on how to vote by mail is available at the city’s website, juneau.org/clerk/elections.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.