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Voters’ rights groups challenge mail-in ballot requirements

July 23, 2020 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Two voters’ rights groups in Rhode Island filed a federal lawsuit Thursday challenging the state’s vote-by-mail witness and notary requirements, saying the rule unnecessarily puts people’s health at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Common Cause Rhode Island and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, and three residents with medical conditions that place them or members of their household at risk of illness or death if they contract COVID-19.

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The lawsuit seeks to block provisions of a state law that requires voters who vote by mail to have two witnesses or a notary sign their ballot envelope, a move that would require face-to-face and hand-to-hand interactions.

“Removing the witness and notary requirement in the midst of a deadly pandemic is a common sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, one of the organizations that filed the suit.

The plaintiffs include a 32-year-old woman who is blind and unable to drive, an 88-year-old woman unable to vote in person, and a woman with asthma, apnea, hypertension, and diabetes.

The defendants are Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and the state Board of Elections.

Gorbea in a statement said she agrees that the witness and notary requirements should be waived, but it is not within her authority to do so. She said it’s up to the governor or the state legislature.

A message seeking comment was left with the Board of Elections.