ACLU Sues Over Postage Requirement for Absentee Voting in Georgia

By Megan Reed | The Gainesville Times | April 10, 2020

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Update, April 10: Georgia's primary has been postponed to June 9. Absentee ballot applications already sent in will be processed, and voters will receive an absentee ballot to be used in the June election.

Those interested in voting absentee in Georgia must provide their own postage, but a lawsuit was filed Wednesday over the constitutionality of that practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Georgia filed the federal lawsuit April 8 on behalf of Black Voters Matter.

The ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction to require election officials to provide prepaid returnable envelopes for absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots.

The U.S. Constitution bans the imposition of a poll tax, the lawsuit says.

“Georgia election officials require voters to use their own postage when submitting mail-in absentee ballots and applications. Postage costs money. Thus, Defendants have imposed a poll tax in violation of the Constitution,” the suit says.

Georgia’s presidential primary elections were originally scheduled for March 24. Noting the spread of the virus, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in mid-March announced that they would be postponed until May 19, when other elections were already set to be held.

Although in-person voting is still set to be held for the May 19 primary, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office is mailing every voter an absentee ballot application so voters can cast their ballots by mail if they would prefer to stay away from the polls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, the number of voters who mail in ballots will skyrocket,” Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “It is all the more imperative that unconstitutional barriers like this poll tax be removed immediately.”

The lawsuit says that in-person voting is also nearly impossible for some elderly or disabled voters.

“This case is about marginalized voters who come from communities who have historically faced over a century of racist voter suppression, including the use of poll taxes to disenfranchise voters, and who rightfully refuse to pay another cent for the right to vote,” the lawsuit says.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Hall County allows voters to scan their applications and return them via email. It was not immediately clear whether that was available statewide. Hall County voters can scan email them to [email protected].

All absentee ballots from voters in the country must arrive at their county’s elections office by Election Day, according to a state guide to absentee voting. Ballots from people in the military or overseas must be postmarked by Election Day and must arrive within three days afterward. Absentee ballots need to be mailed rather than emailed.

If absentee ballots are mailed without sufficient postage, the U.S. Postal Service has a policy of not delaying their return to election officials, spokeswoman Martha Johnson said in an email. If the missing postage isn’t caught when the ballot is mailed, the postal service charges local election officials for the postage due, she said.

“The Postal Service is steadfast in our commitment to support democracy,” Johnson wrote. “We will not deny a voter their right to vote by delaying a time sensitive ballot because of insufficient postage.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Voters are being mailed applications to vote absentee in the May 19, 2020, primary.

- Photo by Shannon Casas