Judge finds issue with ballot witness requirements

Expect more developments by Tuesday.


Associated Press

A state court judge on Monday ruled enforcement of witness requirements for absentee ballots in Alaska during a pandemic “impermissibly burdens the right to vote” but did not immediately put into effect an order eliminating the requirement for the general election.

Superior Court Judge Dani Crosby gave the parties until late Tuesday to propose how the Division of Elections should communicate the message and said she would later issue an order “specifying how to implement elimination” of the requirement for the Nov. 3 election.

She noted the state might appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court.

Maria Bahr, a Department of Law spokesperson, said Crosby’s decision “makes it clear that the injunction is not yet in effect — meaning the requirement for signature witnesses is still in place.” The department, in consultation with the division, “is evaluating the decision and considering possible options,” Bahr said by email.

[City nixes signature requirement for October local election]

The case was brought by Arctic Village Council, a tribal government; the League of Women Voters of Alaska; and two individuals who have cited health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Their attorneys argued the witness requirement is unconstitutional during the pandemic and a bar to voting for those who don’t live with someone who can be a witness.

In arguments before Crosby last week, Lael Harrison, an attorney for the state, said a change in requirements so close to the election could cause voter confusion and said the Division of Elections is concerned about its credibility with voters.

Attorneys for the state previously said ballot envelopes listing the requirement had been printed and that the plaintiffs “inexcusably” waited until September to sue.

Crosby, in her written ruling, said the pandemic “is a shifty beast” and that the plaintiffs were not unreasonable in waiting to sue until they did. She disagreed with concerns that processing ballots without a witness signature would be a hassle.

She also said, based on the record before her, she could not find the witness requirement is an effective tool for detecting voter fraud. Other aspects of Alaska election law “ensure the integrity of absentee voting,” including requirements that voters provide identification and sign absentee ballots under penalty of perjury, she said.

Crosby also disagreed that a late change could damage voter confidence in the Division of Elections.

“Given the widespread effects of the pandemic on every aspect of daily life, voters would understand that, for this election only, it is important to protect individuals’ rights to protect their health and to vote,” she wrote. Eliminating the witness requirement for this purpose could bolster confidence, “showing that even during a pandemic, the state will maximize our citizens’ opportunities to vote safely,” she added.

• This is an Associated Press report.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

The entrance to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp.’s Anchorage office is seen on Aug. 11, 2023. The state-owned AGDC is pushing for a massive project that would ship natural gas south from the North Slope, liquefy it and send it on tankers from Cook Inlet to Asian markets. The AGDC proposal is among many that have been raised since the 1970s to try commercialize the North Slope’s stranded natural gas. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Eight young Alaskans sue to block proposed trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline

Plaintiffs cite climate change that harms their access to fish, wildlife and natural resources.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read