Protecting our right to vote is essential, and it’s up to our government officials to make sure that we can cast our ballot safely and securely, even in the middle of a pandemic. One of the hurdles that has now been eliminated because of an ACLU lawsuit is the requirement to get a witness to sign your absentee ballot. Amid the pandemic, this witness requirement would have created an unconstitutional burden on eligible voters in Virginia who cannot risk the contact with others.

With so much on the line this election season, it is important to create a plan to vote. If you are voting absentee, make sure to request a ballot now and send it in as early as possible.

The witness requirement would have disenfranchised over a quarter of Virginians age 18 and over who live alone. It would also disproportionately impact Virginians over 65 years of age, Virginians with disabilities and Black Virginians, who are experiencing COVID-19 at higher rates.

The ACLU of Virginia took legal action to address the witness requirement at the start of the pandemic to protect our right to vote safely. In April, we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individual Virginia voters to challenge the witness requirement. In May, a federal court approved an agreement waiving the witness signature requirement for the June 23 primary.

As the pandemic progressed, the court approved an agreement extending the waiver to the Nov. 3 general election. By not having to worry about providing a witness signature, Virginians will have one less hurdle when voting by absentee ballot.

The agreement also requires Virginia election officials to inform voters about the change and instruct local election officials to count all absentee ballots – with or without a witness signature – in the November election. The governor and Virginia election officials can and must adapt voting policies to preserve our democracy and keep everyone safe.

With so much on the line this election season, it is important to create a plan to vote. If you are voting absentee, make sure to request a ballot now and send it in as early as possible. If you mail in your absentee ballot, it must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by your registrar by noon on Nov. 6. You may drop off your absentee ballot in person or vote early in person between Sept. 18-Oct. 31. If voting in person, either early or on Election Day, make sure to review the new list of accepted IDs and confirm with your registrar that your voting location will be open. When making your plan to vote, make sure to vote safely.

The witness signature requirement was waived due to the pandemic, but Virginians have more options and fewer restrictions on voting because of new laws that went into effect earlier this year. But without a guaranteed right to vote for all Virginia citizens 18 and over, these new laws can be undone. We must champion a constitutional amendment to ensure our right to vote and protect against voter suppression tactics that are too often used against Black people and communities of color. The ACLU of Virginia will continue to monitor future elections and work to break down obstacles that prevent Virginians from casting their votes safely.