Cost of Postage Creates a Problem for Virus-Cautious Voting

While Georgia does not include prepaid postage for voters to mail in their ballots, dropping off a ballot while maintaining social distancing is still possible, as seen here in this image from the March 17 elections in Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

ATLANTA (CN) — Predicting that most will mail in their ballots this year to limit the virus pandemic death toll, voters brought a federal class action Wednesday demanding that Georgia do away with postage rules that could amount to a poll tax.

Represented by the ACLU, the group Black Voters Matter and DeKalb resident Megan Gordon filed the suit in Atlanta.

Although the 55-cent cost of a first-class postage stamp may be small, the challengers say any financial barrier to voting is unconstitutional. Postage costs could be higher for longer and heavier ballots.

Demanding that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger provide prepaid returnable envelopes for absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications, the ACLU says voters who leave their homes to purchase stamps may “needlessly expose themselves” at a time when public health officials are urging social distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Voters will face similar risks if they choose to vote in person in Georgia’s May 19 primary election.

“Voting in-person unnecessarily endangers the health and safety of voters and anyone they come into contact with well after voting,” the complaint states.

Predicting that voting by mail “may become the new normal,” the ACLU noted that election officials can easily pivot to prepaid mail-in ballots since they already use postage-free mailings for other purposes.

In a statement Wednesday, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia Sean Young said the virus pandemic will cause the number of voters who vote by mail to “skyrocket.”

Georgia’s postage-stamp requirement “imposes a serious burden” on poor, as well as marginalized voters who may not have postage stamps at home and may lack transportation to a post office, according to the complaint.

“Voters without Internet access or a credit card cannot buy stamps online, and if they do, they must unnecessarily purchase an unaffordable book of stamps (about $10) because they aren’t allowed to buy just one,” the complaint alleges.

Voters can avoid buying stamps by delivering their ballots in-person to county election offices before Election Day.

Georgia election officials mailed absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters last week.

“No one should have to choose between protecting their health and their right to vote,” Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said Wednesday. “Voting by mail will be the safest option for many voters. In failing to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots, Georgia is creating an unconstitutional obstacle to voting. We won’t allow for a modern-day poll tax.”

A representative for Raffensperger did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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