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Republican Party Challenges Agreement on Absentee Voting

Black voting booths in a gym
Gov. Ralph Northam and election officials have urged voters to cast mail-in absentee ballots for upcoming elections. (Yasmine Jumaa/VPM News)

Virginians could be allowed to cast a mail-in ballot without a witness in the June 23 Congressional primaries if a new deal is approved by a U.S. district court judge.

But the Republican Party of Virginia is fighting against the change, which it argues would lead to fraud. 

Under the draft agreement, election officials would not enforce a law requiring a witness to observe voters casting mail-in ballots for the primary. The change would not affect local elections now set for May 19.

The ACLU of Virginia and League of Women Voters sued top election officials earlier this month to change the witness requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic. They argued the requirement would disenfranchise voters, particularly older ones most at risk of contracting the disease. 

The deal between Attorney General Mark Herring and the ACLU still has to be approved by a U.S. district court judge.

Attorneys for the Republican Party of Virginia filed a motion on April 24 on behalf of three party members asking Judge Norman Moon to reconsider the validity of the original complaint. 

“If unauthorized ballots are cast due to fraud, they dilute the votes of legal voters,” the motion says.

Virginia is one of only 11 states that has the signature requirement in place -- proof, the ACLU argues, that the rule isn’t necessary. Most academic research into voter fraud suggests it’s exceedingly rare.

RPV spokesman John March suggested another proxy, such as the last 4 digits of a social security number, could be used to verify voters instead.

"This is yet another example of Democrats using a pandemic to advance their far-left agenda,” March said.

But Herring’s office was quick to hail the deal in a press release sent Tuesday morning.

“No Virginian should have to choose between their health and their right to vote during this pandemic,” Herring said.

Claire Gastanaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, said she was hopeful the judge would approve the settlement. But she expressed disappointment that it took a lawsuit to sway the state. 

“We thought the state Board of Elections could have cured this by rewriting their regulations,” she said. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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