The Alaska Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court ruling that put the requirement for by-mail absentee ballots to be witnessed and signed by a third party for the general election, finding that it “impermissibly burdens the right to vote” during the covid-19 pandemic.
Under the court ruling, the Division of Elections is required to count ballots whether they have a witness signature or not. It also is tasked with conducting a public information campaign ahead of the Nov. 3 general election to inform voters of the change.
“Voters do not need to get their absentee ballots witnessed,” said the state in a statement published after the order. “In order for a person’s vote to count, voters must still sign the back of the absentee ballot envelope and provide the voter identifier, such as date of birth, driver’s license number, etc. … There is also nothing prohibiting a voter from having their ballot witnessed, and any ballot that is witnessed will be counted, so long as it meets all the other statutory requirements, just as it would have been prior to the court’s order.”
The witness requirement is ostensibly there to prevent voter fraud, but the state was unable to cite any cases where it had ever been used to identify fraud. It did, however, lead to the disqualification of 456 ballots in the primary election and was the leading cause for ballots to be not counted (though the state argued that the disqualification rate was lower than in previous years).
Looking ahead, the state now suggests that voters consider dating their ballots—a move that would typically be done by the person witnessing it—but says that’s not required. During oral arguments in front of the Alaska Supreme Court on Monday, the state said dating the ballot can sometimes be helpful if the ballot becomes damaged in the mail.
So simply put: You don’t need a witness signature for your by-mail absentee ballot to be counted, but you can get one of if you feel like it. Everything else still applies.
Alaskans can apply for a by-mail absentee ballot for any reason through Oct. 24 either online or by paper form. They’ve been doing so at a record rate with 115,436 Alaskans requesting absentee ballots or about 1-in-5 voters.
With the record-high absentee rate, it’s important for voters, candidates and the press to understand that we likely won’t have a clear picture of the results on election night. By-mail absentee ballots will not be counted until a week after election day, which is the same process used in the primary election where we saw some races tighten or even flip from election-night results.
The by-mail ballot must be postmarked by election day, which isn’t guaranteed if you drop it in the mailbox on election day. By default, ballots are postmarked once they reach Anchorage’s mail processing facility though local post offices can hand postmark a ballot if someone requests it.
The best way to ensure that it’s counted is to mail it early, drop it off at a state drop box or drop it off at a polling location. The United State Postal Service recommends voters send their by-mail ballots at least a week ahead of the election.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious about by-mail ballots, having requested and received a by-mail absentee ballot doesn’t prevent you from voting in-person or early in-person, but you are supposed to destroy or ignore the ballot.
If you want your vote to be counted on election day, you’ll have to either vote in-person on election day or vote early in person before Oct. 29 at the following locations:
- Anchorage City Hall, 632 W 6th Ave
- Midtown Mall, 600 E Northern Lights
- UAA Student Union, 3211 Providence Drive’
- Region 3 Elections Office, 675 7th Ave, Suite A2
- UAF Wood Center, 811 Yukon Drive
- Region 1 Elections Office, Mendenhall Mall Annex
- State Office Building, Willoughby Ave, 8th Floor
- Region IV Elections Office, Sitnasuak Building, 214 Front Street, Suite 130
- Mat-Su Borough Building, 350 E Dahlia Ave
- Wasilla Public Library, 500 N Crusey St
There are many other locations that offer early voting but that form of voting is considered to be early absentee in-person voting and won’t be counted until by-mail absentee ballots are already tallied.