Virginia voters get conflicting information on witness signatures

There were last-minute changes made to the absentee voting process in Virginia this year ahead of the presidential election — and it appears that time crunch is now leading to confusion for voters.

Absentee ballots started being mailed out to voters at the end of last week, and several jurisdictions mailed ballots that include instructions telling voters that they need a “witness signature” for their ballot to count.

While that was the case in previous elections, witness signatures are not required this year.

“There is some conflicting information provided to voters,” said Deb Wake, president of the voting-rights advocacy group the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

“Some of the localities, when they printed the ballot envelopes, the witness requirement is still on there.”

Confusion over the signatures has been reported in numerous areas including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria and Manassas Park.

Wake said it appears that some local officials did not have enough time to change the official language on their ballot instructions.

It was just weeks ago in late August when Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the state had agreed to accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness.

“I understand that there were time pressures and it’s unfortunate,” said Wake.

Wake’s group helped get the witness requirement removed by suing the Virginia Department of Elections, arguing that voters should not be forced to be around anyone else during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, Herring said he agreed and that “safe voting has been one of my top priorities for the last six months because no one should ever have to choose between their health and their fundamental right to cast their vote.”

Separately, Herring had reached an agreement earlier in the year that allowed absentee ballots without a witness signature for the June 23 primary elections.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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