This photo shows an Alaska ballot, return envelope and by-mail voting instructions. Step No. 4, having a signature witnessed, is being debated with opponents saying requiring a witness creates an unnecessary hurdle for voters who do not live with someone 18 or older. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows an Alaska ballot, return envelope and by-mail voting instructions. Step No. 4, having a signature witnessed, is being debated with opponents saying requiring a witness creates an unnecessary hurdle for voters who do not live with someone 18 or older. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Court waives signature requirement for absentee ballots


Associated Press

The Alaska Supreme Court on Monday affirmed a lower court ruling eliminating witness requirements for absentee ballots for the general election.

The brief decision came shortly after the state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case. A full opinion is expected later.

Last week, Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby ruled enforcement of the witness requirements during the coronavirus pandemic “impermissibly burdens the right to vote.” She waited to put the order into effect, to allow the Supreme Court to weigh in.

The two sides in the matter had agreed to a stay pending Supreme Court review, with the understanding the Division of Elections would make preparations to carry out the order should the state lose the case.

Department of Law spokeswoman Maria Bahr said the department respects the court’s decision.

Laura Fox, an attorney for the state, had asked the Supreme Court to keep in place the witness requirements, arguing that a change in rules, when voting is already underway, “will cause confusion and distrust.”

More than 110,000 absentee ballots have been sent to voters who requested them, with nearly 11,000 already returned, the division says.

During arguments, Fox said the division typically is engaged in voter outreach for months but in this case faces having to “re-educate voters in direct contradiction of the printed materials and past practice in just a few weeks.”

“This is telling the voters, yeah, we know you have all of these printed materials saying that you have to do it one way but … just ignore that,” she said.

Justice Susan Carney responded: “Isn’t that the message, ‘ignore it?’ How hard is that?”

The case was brought by the Arctic Village Council; League of Women Voters of Alaska; and two individuals. Their attorneys have argued the witness requirement is unconstitutional during the pandemic and a bar to voting for those who don’t live with someone who is at least 18 and able to serve as a witness.

Natalie Landreth, an attorney for the plaintiffs, noted the unusual circumstances, with arguments held via video conferencing.

“One year ago, none of us could imagine that I would be in what is frankly my kitchen arguing an Alaska Supreme Court case. And this is how radically the world has changed and how quickly,” she said.

The witness requirement is “creating a burden that doesn’t need to be there,” Landreth said.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Sept. 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

Faith Rogers’ family, from left to right, James Rogers (father), Michelle Rogers (sister), Harmony Wentz (daughter), Maria Rogers (mother) and Mindy Voigt (friend) sit with Faith’s three dogs in their family home. Faith Rogers, 55, of Juneau was found dead along a popular trail on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Police are investigating the death as a homicide. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
‘It’s shocking’: Family hopes for answers after suspicious death of loved one

“She wanted to make things beautiful, to help make people beautiful…”

People work together to raise the Xa’Kooch story pole, which commemorates the Battle of the Inian Islands. (Shaelene Grace Moler / For the Capital City Weekly)
Resilient Peoples & Place: The Xa’Kooch story pole — one step toward a journey of healing

“This pole is for the Chookaneidi, but here among us, many clans are represented…”

A bracket fungus exudes guttation drops and a small fly appears to sip one of them.( Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Water drops on plants

Guttation drops contain not only water but also sugars, proteins, and probably minerals.

A chart shows what critics claim is poor financial performance by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, especially in subsidizing private industry projects intended to boost the state’s economy, during its 55-year existence. The chart is part of a report released Tuesday criticizing the agency. (MB Barker/LLC Erickson & Associates/EcoSystems LLC)
AIDEA’s fiscal performance fishy, critics say

Report presented by salmon industry advocates asserts state business subsidy agency cost public $10B

Police vehicles gather Wednesday evening near Kaxdigoowu Héen Dei, also known as ]]Brotherhood Bridge Trail, while investigating a homicide. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Police: Woman was walking dogs when she was killed

JPD said officers are working “around the clock” on the criminal investigation.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew-member observes a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea came across the guided missile cruiser from the People's Republic of China, officials said Monday, Sept. 26.  (U.S. Coast Guard District 17 via AP)
Patrol spots Chinese, Russian naval ships off Alaska island

This wasn’t the first time Chinese naval ships have sailed near Alaska waters.

An Alaska judge has ruled that a state lawmaker affiliated with the Oath Keepers, Rep. David Eastman, shown in this February 2022 photo, may stay on the general election ballot in November even though he's likely ineligible to hold public office  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge ordered delaying certifying the result of the race until a trial scheduled for December.

Water rushes down Front Street, just a half block from the Bering Sea, in Nome, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok moved into the region. It was a massive storm system — big enough to cover the mainland U.S. from the Pacific Ocean to Nebraska and from Canada to Texas. It influenced weather systems as far away as California, where a rare late-summer storm dropped rain on the northern part of the state, offering a measure of relief to wildfire crews but also complicating fire suppression efforts because of mud and loosened earth. (AP Photo / Peggy Fagerstrom)
Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm

ANCHORAGE — There’s been significant damage to some roads and homes in… Continue reading

Most Read