|RICHMOND (April 28, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced that the Commonwealth has reached an agreement that will promote public health and participation in elections by encouraging safe absentee voting by mail in the upcoming June 23 primaries. Under the terms of a proposed consent decree submitted to Judge Norman K. Moon in the Western District of Virginia, the Commonwealth will accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness “for voters who believe they may not safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.”
“This agreement is a win for Virginians because it will protect both the health and voting rights of those who would otherwise have to violate social distancing requirements and jeopardize their well-being just to exercise their fundamental right to vote,” said Attorney General Herring. “No Virginian should have to choose between their health and their right to vote during this pandemic.”
In a joint brief in support of the agreement, the Attorney General and the plaintiffs state that they have reached “an agreement that serves the public interests of election integrity, access to the ballot, and protecting public health.” They further state that the agreement, which is limited only to the June 23 primaries, advances “the interest of the Commonwealth in (i) ensuring that all eligible Virginians need not jeopardize their health or public health to vote, (ii) protecting election integrity, and (iii) that resolution well before the primary will best equip election officials to carry out their duties.”
In support of the agreement, Attorney General Herring and the plaintiffs’ brief explains that the agreement protects the right to vote, because “many voters in Virginia who live alone may not be able to violate social distancing protocols to have an individual outside their home witness their absentee ballot or to vote in-person, meaning that they would not be able to cast a vote or have their vote counted in June.” The brief also explains that “the proposed consent decree also serves public health in that it promotes the continuation of social distancing as recommended by the Governor and state and federal public health officials.”
The brief also highlights that there are many other safeguards to ensure security on absentee ballots: “aside from the witness requirement, many other Virginia laws ensure proper absentee voting including provision of identifying information, a signed attestation confirming identity, eligibility, and lack of double-voting, and a check of the ballot against the list of ballot requests…and penalize malfeasance.”
The order is proposed to the court and will not be final and effective until entered by the court. A copy of the draft consent decree is available here. A copy of the brief in support of the agreement is available here.