SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The state of Minnesota has agreed to mail absentee ballot applications to registered voters for the November general election due to COVID-19, in response to an ACLU lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Minnesota, and Faegre Drinker LLP had sued Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon seeking to make voting safer in Minnesota in the midst of this pandemic.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NAACP and individual voters, and noted that as “elected officials make decisions of extraordinary impact to the lives and welfare of the state’s residents, the pandemic has only magnified the critical importance of the right to participate in our elections.” The witness requirement was suspended earlier this summer due to the same lawsuit.
“This agreement is a major victory for Minnesotans because it ensures that all voters now have access to absentee voting, even those without internet service, which is nearly a quarter of the population. Minnesotans will no longer have to choose between their health and their vote,” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project.
Under the agreement, the state will mail absentee ballot applications at least 40 days before the election to all registered voters who have not already applied for one. The agreement was finalized earlier this week, followed by negotiating and finalizing a joint stipulation of dismissal that was filed with the court Friday, Sept. 18.
“By helping secure greater access to voting, this agreement represents a step toward racial justice,” said David McKinney, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Minnesota. “It makes it much easier for people who are at greater risk from COVID, including people of color, the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions, to vote early and to vote without having to go to a polling place. That also leaves the polls free on Election Day for those who must vote in person, protecting the vote and the health of all Minnesotans.”
In an earlier ruling, the court noted that 900,000 Minnesotan voters live alone, as do half of eligible voters with disabilities. Requiring a witness signature combined with a lack of easy access to absentee ballots could have disenfranchised thousands who cannot risk contact with others.
“This legal victory will help Minnesotans exercise their right to vote safely, uninhibited from the dangers presented by COVID-19 and the disinformation campaigns that have been deployed by partisan entities,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP. “Creating an environment that protects our democracy and constitutional rights are the main priorities as we approach one of the most pivotal elections of our lifetime.”
The lawsuit, NAACP Minnesota-Dakotas Area State Conference v. Simon, was filed in Ramsey County District Court in Saint Paul, Minn.