August 03, 2020

Major Barriers to Voting by Mail in the General Election Removed as a Result of Retirees’ Lawsuit

ST. PAUL, MN – The civil rights and health of hundreds of thousands of older Minnesota voters will be significantly better protected in November thanks to a new settlement with the Secretary of State of Minnesota.

“This is a victory for democracy and the voters of Minnesota. All voters should be able to vote by mail and know that their ballot will be counted,” said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the national Alliance for Retired Americans. “This is especially critical for seniors, who are the most at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic, and need to be able to vote by mail to protect their health.”

The Secretary of State agreed to two demands by the Minnesota Alliance and its members for the November 3 General Election: 

  • All mail ballots from registered voters will be accepted without requiring that another registered voter or a notary witness and sign the return envelope; and
  • Ballots received within seven days after the November 3 Election Day will be accepted, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

The plaintiffs included the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund, three Minnesota Alliance members and an individual plaintiff. The suit was supported by the National Redistricting Foundation and includes one other individual plaintiff. The consent decree, filed in Ramsey County District Court, was approved by Judge Sara Grewing. 

“I am relieved and elated that the Secretary of State and the court have affirmed my constitutional right to vote without putting my health at risk,” said Teresa Maples of Red Wing, a plaintiff, a member of the Minnesota Alliance for Retired Americans and a registered voter in Goodhue County. “There is no way my serious health conditions would allow me to vote in person during this pandemic, and I live alone. Knowing I can vote by mail without having to find someone to witness my ballot, or worry that my ballot may not arrive on time regardless of when I mail it, is a relief.” 

“There are 700,000 seniors registered to vote in Minnesota who are among the most at-risk from COVID-19,” said Michael Madden, President of the Minnesota Alliance. “They can now rest assured that they can protect their vote and participate in the November election.”

In addition to Ms. Maples, the plaintiffs include Minnesota Alliance members Gary Severson of Chaska, Minnesota and Mary Samson of Newport, Minnesota.

The Alliance for Retired Americans, working with its state chapters, has filed lawsuits to protect vote by mail and absentee voters in Florida, Maine, Michigan, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, in addition to Minnesota this year.

Background: The lawsuit alleged that due to the severe health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many Minnesota voters will be forced to vote by mail-in absentee ballot. The plaintiffs and the Secretary of State agreed to similar provisions for the August 11th primary on June 11, 2020.

The state’s requirement that each absentee voter secure a witness signature on their ballot means that certain eligible voters who live alone or without an adult U.S. citizen in the household would have been unable to cast their vote. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that a second deadly wave of infections is likely to occur in the fall and people most at risk from COVID-19 will likely need to continue to self-isolate and practice social distancing.

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Contact: Lisa Cutler at 202-674-2052 or lcutler@retiredamericans.org

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