2020 has been a year of challenges for everyone thanks to COVID-19, including voters and notaries. With COVID-19 still widespread in the United States, election officials are predicting a significantly larger number of requests to vote by mail this year than in previous elections.
Ballot during COVID-19
COVID-19 has also touched off a political debate about the widespread use of mail-in and absentee voting. Because of fears of potential contagion and virus spread at public polling places, some voters, politicians, and organizations have called for increased availability of mail-in voting and the removal of notarization requirements and other related restrictions. Some supporters of increased mail-in voting contend that notarization and other security requirements create an additional burden for impoverished or minority voters trying to vote by mail. Opponents have argued that removing these requirements increases the risk of ballot fraud. During this debate, state officials have struggled to find a balance between voter safety and ballot security.
Because of concerns about the possible spread of COVID-19 at polling places, election officials across the nation are preparing for an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots from voters, many of whom want to cast their votes safely from the comfort of their homes. Some states are even providing mail-in ballots automatically for all registered voters.
Prevent possible fraud caused by the surge of mail-in ballots
With COVID-19 still widespread in the United States, election officials are predicting a significantly larger number of requests to vote by mail this year than in previous elections.
“We launched our absentee ballot request service on August 17, and already had more than 20,000 requests for absentee ballots on the first day,” said Kristen Muszynski, Communications Director with the Maine Secretary of State’s office. “By comparison, in 2016 we received 120 requests on the first day of making the service live.”
Domings said Rhode Island is already seeing a major surge in voting by mail. “We anticipate a much higher volume of mail-in ballots this year,” he said. “In our June 2 presidential primary, mail-in ballots accounted for 83 percent of all votes cast.” Domings said the average rate of mail-in ballots for past presidential primaries in Rhode Island has averaged at around 3 percent.
But there are complications. Some public officials have argued that a surge in voting by mail will bring a significantly higher risk of voter fraud. Some states have reaffirmed or enacted safety measures — including notarization requirements — to prevent possible ballot fraud.
Amid these ballot controversies, while not required for absentee and mail-in voting in most states, many voters are likely to seek out Notaries to notarize their ballot applications and the ballots themselves.
States that have notarization requirements for mail-in or absentee ballots
You might be surprised to learn that only a few states — including Alaska, Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Dakota — have notarization requirements for mail-in or absentee ballots. Alaska requires absentee ballots to be signed in the presence of a witness, who must either be 18 years of age or older or an official authorized to administer oaths (which would include a Notary). Maine requires notarization only for absentee ballots that will be delivered or mailed by certain third parties other than the voter. Mississippi requires absentee ballot applications to be notarized, and most ballots must be completed in the presence of an authorized witness such as a Notary. Minnesota and North Carolina — states that normally have a notarization requirement — have suspended notarization requirements for mail-in voting for the November 2020 election.
If you are a notary public
While voting in 2020 has become complicated, knowing the following important information will keep you on track when asked to notarize mail-in or absentee ballots:
1. Confirm whether your state requires absentee or mail-in ballots to be notarized. Remember that in most states, notarization is not required to apply for or vote absentee or by mail-in ballots. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s Notary laws so you will know if notarization is required and if so, with the proper steps for notarizing vote-by-mail materials are in your state.
2. Be sure you know which voting materials must be notarized and how to properly notarize them. Remember that different states may require different documents to be notarized. Some states may require a voter’s signature to be notarized on the application to request an absentee or mail-in ballot. Others require the voter to sign an affidavit and have the signature notarized before submitting the ballot. If a signer isn’t sure what kind of notarization they need, have them contact your local or state elections agency to ask for instructions.
3. Only charge for notarizing absentee and mail-in ballots if your state permits it. Do not charge a fee for notarizing vote-by-mail related materials if your state law prohibits it.
4. Don’t answer questions about requesting, completing or mailing a mail-in or absentee ballot. Remember, Notaries are not permitted to provide unauthorized advice to signers about the documents they notarize. This includes vote-by-mail and absentee ballots. If a signer has questions about how to ask for, complete or submit an absentee ballot, do not try to answer yourself. Direct the signer to contact the appropriate local or state election agency to request assistance.
If you are a voter
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Source: National Notary Association
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