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Attorney General of Virginia

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Commonwealth of Virginia
Office of the Attorney General

Mark Herring
Attorney General

202 North Ninth Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

 

For media inquiries only, contact:  
Charlotte Gomer, Press Secretary
Phone: (804)786-1022 
Mobile: (804) 512-2552
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING OPPOSES MISSISSIPPI’S RESTRICTIVE VOTE-BY-MAIL REQUIREMENTS

~ Herring joins coalition of 17 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief arguing that limited vote-by-mail eligibility and notarization requirement for mail-in ballots could expose voters to COVID-19 ~

RICHMOND – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a group of 17 state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting a challenge to several vote-by-mail requirements in Mississippi that threaten the health of voters and could suppress the vote. The lawsuit, filed by a group of Mississippi voters and voting-rights organizations, challenges strict limits on vote-by-mail eligibility, a notarization requirement for mail-in ballot applications and mail-in ballots, and a signature matching requirement for mail-in ballots run by untrained officials, with no opportunity to remedy non-matching signatures. In their amicus brief filed in Parham v. Watson in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues oppose these requirements, arguing that states have a responsibility to tailor their election rules to protect voter participation and voter safety during the pandemic. The brief also argues that vote-by-mail fraud is extremely rare and that making voting more accessible does not lead to widespread fraud.

 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced states and localities to come up with ways to make sure individuals can vote safely and one of the most effective ways to do that is to make it easy to vote securely by mail,” said Attorney General Herring. “Mississippi’s incredibly restrictive vote-by-mail requirements could force thousands of Mississippians to choose between their wellbeing and exercising their right to vote, something no one should ever have to do. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in this ongoing fight to protect voter participation and voter safety during these uncertain times.”

 

Election experts project that voter turnout in the general election this November could be the highest in over a century. Amid the pandemic, many voters will seek to comply with public health experts’ instructions to practice social distancing and limit person-to-person contact. As a result, states across the country have modified their election procedures to protect both voter participation and the health of voters and election workers.

 

In August 2020, several Mississippi voters and voting-rights organizations filed a lawsuit challenging three aspects of the state’s vote-by-mail requirements:

 

  • Excuse requirement: This requirement permits only certain individuals—for example those traveling outside of their county on Election Day or voters over 65—to vote by mail. Voters wanting to follow public health guidance for avoiding in-person interactions during COVID-19 cannot request an absentee ballot for that reason.
  • Notarization requirement: For those permitted to vote by mail, Mississippi requires that the application to vote by mail and the absentee ballot itself must be notarized, requiring two in-person interactions and thus risking possible exposure to COVID-19 twice.
  • Signature matching: Mississippi verifies mail-in ballots by comparing voters’ signatures on the mail-in ballot envelope against those on the absentee applications. Election officials who conduct these comparisons, however, are not trained as handwriting experts and are not provided objective criteria for comparing signatures. When signatures are deemed not to match, unlike most jurisdictions that conduct such matching, Mississippi does not alert voters or afford them an opportunity to remedy their ballots.

 

In the amicus brief, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues support the plaintiffs’ challenge to Mississippi’s unsafe vote-by-mail requirements because:

 

  • States have a responsibility to protect voter participation and voter safety: The Supreme Court has recognized that states have the power to regulate elections and must do so in ways that preserve the right to vote. During the pandemic, states and localities have enacted reasonable measures to preserve their residents’ access to voting while limiting in-person interactions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is highly contagious. The vast majority of states are permitting all voters to vote by mail amid the pandemic; many have sent vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter; others plan to affirmatively send ballots to all registered voters; and some have relaxed notarization and witness requirements for mail-in ballots.
  • Vote-by-mail fraud is very rare and increasing voting accessibility does not increase voting fraud: Since 2000, over 250 million people in all 50 states have voted using mail-in ballots, and in 2018 alone, over 31 million Americans—or about 25.8 percent of voters—cast their ballots by mail. Moreover, five states—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington—already have all-mail voting systems where every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail. Despite the prevalence of voting by mail, officials at the state and federal level have consistently found no evidence of widespread fraud.
  • States have mechanisms to protect the integrity of elections: States have many mail-in voting safeguards available to them, including using ballots with a unique bar code that, once returned and scanned, prevent the voter from casting another ballot in the election. Signature matching can also help ensure election integrity, but it must be done correctly with signature matching software, bipartisan reviewers trained in signature verification, and outreach to voters flagged with mismatched signatures. Currently, at least 21 states that rely on signature matching provide voters notice and an opportunity to remedy ballots deemed to have mismatched signatures.

 

Earlier this week, Attorney General Herring filed a similar amicus brief supporting a challenge to a South Carolina law that requires a witness signature for voters to cast their ballots by mail. 

 

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Attorney General Herring has worked with Virginia's elections officials to find solutions to make sure Virginians can vote safely and easily. These solutions provide voters with safe alternatives to in-person voting, so that they are not putting the health and safety of themselves or that of their loved ones at risk. He and his team have been able to negotiate options to promote safe, secure voting for folks who cannot or do not want to risk their health to vote in person. For the November election he reached an agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who believe they may not safely have a witness present when completing their ballot, and another agreement that makes it easier for Virginians with print disabilities to participate in the election safely at home.

 

Joining Attorney General Herring in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

 

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