ACLU, NAACP lawsuit: Amid pandemic, mail absentee ballots to all Minnesota voters

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"I Voted!" stickers sit atop a ballot box at the Denver Elections Division Building in Denver, Colorado on November 4, 2014.
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Updated: 11:37 a.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Minnesota secretary of state, asking that absentee ballots be mailed to every registered voter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the NAACP and two elderly Minnesota voters who live alone and have health conditions. It contends that voting in person would put the women at risk for exposure to the coronavirus. So would voting by absentee ballot, because Minnesota law requires a witness.

"They recognize the threat, and so for them having to go to the polls or even having to get a witness to sign the absentee voting ballot envelope puts their health at an undue risk,” said David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Minnesota.

The lawsuit asks the court to suspend the witness requirement and mail absentee ballots to every registered voter in Minnesota for the August primary and November general election.

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"We strongly believe in accessibility to vote from Minnesotans, particularly Minnesotans who are elderly, who are vulnerable, who are people of color, all of whom have been hit hard with the coronavirus threat,” McKinney said. “This lawsuit seeks to make voting more accessible for them in this coming election."

Secretary of State Steve Simon declined to comment on the lawsuit. He has urged Minnesotans to apply for absentee ballots for the upcoming elections.

McKinney said the lawsuit could be avoided if the Legislature would take action instead. DFL lawmakers have pushed for an expansion of voting by mail, but Republicans have opposed the move, saying it could lead to an increase in voter fraud.

The Legislature did pass a bill this year aimed at providing extra safety around voting during the coronavirus pandemic, but it stopped short of expanding voting by mail. The measures included increasing flexibility around polling place locations and releasing $17 million in federal election money for things like sanitizing polling places and enacting social distancing requirements.