RD661 - Virginia Department of Elections Report: Alternatives to the Witness Signature Requirement on Absentee Ballots

Executive Summary:

The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) has prepared this report at the direction of the 2021 General Assembly.(*1) The General Assembly mandated the following:

“[T]hat the Department of Elections shall convene a work group to consider and evaluate alternatives to the witness signature requirement for election officials to use to verify that an absentee ballot has been cast by the voter identified as having requested and received the absentee ballot. The work group shall include such persons determined by the Department of Elections as necessary or appropriate. The work group shall organize no later than July 31, 2021 nd shall complete its work no later than October 31, 2021. If recommending any specific policies or legislative proposals, the work group, through the Commissioner of Elections, shall communicate those recommendations to the Chairmen of the House and Senate Committees on Privileges and Elections by November 15, 2021."(*2)

Pursuant to this mandate, the Department of Elections organized a work group consisting of members of the Virginia elections community to consider this issue. The work group included general registrars, Electoral Board members, and representatives from the Republican and Democratic parties of Virginia.(*3) The work group convened on two dates: first virtually on June 30, 2021, then in-person on July 28, 2021. Prior to finalizing this report, the work group received a final draft and the opportunity to submit any objections.

This report discusses several possible alternatives to Virginia’s absentee ballot witness signature requirement. Further, this report evaluates the relative strengths and weaknesses of each approach.(*4) The Department of Elections has considered the options below and is not currently recommending an option. However, the work group that evaluated this issue preferred Option A: requiring the voter to include their date of birth and the last four digits of their social security number. This option provides a secure and accurate means of confirming a voter’s identity that is also easy for election officials to administer.
(*1) See Acts of Assembly from Special Session I of the 2021 Virginia General Assembly, retrievable at https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?212+ful+CHAP0235.
(*2) Id.
(*3) Work group Members: Democratic Party Representative Frank Leone; Republican Party Representative Greg Riddlemoser and Janet Riddick; Local Electoral Board Members Jim Nix, Roger Omwake, Susan Cobb, and Jonell McFadden; and general registrars Allison Robbins, Walt Latham, Brenda Cabrera, Teri Smithson, Angela Turner, Stephanie Iles, Dianna Dutton, and Jackie Britt.
(*4) For information on other states’ witness signature requirements, see generally National Conference of State Legislatures’ “How States Verify Voted Absentee Ballots" accessed on October 7, 2016 at https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/vopp-table-14-how-states-verify-voted-absentee.aspx.