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Oklahoma’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state cannot enforce its requirement that mail ballots be notarized in order to be counted, handing a victory to opponents of the law who claimed it will interfere with voters’ ability to cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oklahoman has more:
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday struck down a requirement that absentee ballots must be notarized to be valid.
An order issued Monday by Chief Justice Noma Gurich bars the Oklahoma State Election Board from issuing ballot forms or other election materials that suggest notarization is required.
Instead, a statement signed, dated and declared under the penalty of perjury will suffice on absentee ballots. The order from the state’s high court requires the State Election Board to recognize the signed statements as proof that said voter did fill out their own ballot.
Plaintiffs hailed the ruling, which eliminates one of the strictest such laws in the nation. According to NCSL, Oklahoma requires that the voter signature on an absentee ballot envelope be notarized and that notaries keep a log of ballots authorized – and prohibits a notary from witnessing more than 20 ballots without written permission from the state election board.
The court’s ruling gives a win to the League of Women Voters, which sued the State Election Board over the notary requirement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The election rights group said the notary requirement was a “substantial obstacle” that absentee voters would have to face if they chose not to cast an in-person ballot due to concerns about COVID-19.
Cancer survivor Peggy Winston said she joined the lawsuit because she believed undoing the notary requirement could save lives.
“This is a victory for every Oklahoma voter who wants to exercise the right to vote but not risk their lives to do so,” she said.
The state election director opposed the ruling, citing fraud concerns, but said he would comply – which the board said would require some changes to printed materials accompanying ballots:
Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax opposed doing away with the notary requirement due to concerns about voter fraud. He doubled down on those concerns Monday.
“Although I respect the decision of the court and will follow the ruling to the utmost of my ability, this decision effectively leaves Oklahoma without a means to verify that the person who signs an absentee ballot affidavit is the same person to whom the ballot was issued,” he said.
Ziriax said the Election Board had previously purchased and printed ballots. A spokeswoman for the Election Board said the ballots will not need to be reprinted, but modifications will have to be made to the ballot instructions and accompanying materials.
This is obviously a significant ruling for the Sooner State, removing as it does a hurdle to expanded voting in both the June 30 election and the general election this fall. It will be interesting to see how this affects both demand for mail ballots and the process for counting them – especially if the state makes other changes to the process to compensate for the loss of a notary requirement. Stay tuned …