Judge Denies Bid for Free Postage on Georgia Absentee Ballots

A federal judge found there is not enough time to send out new absentee ballots for the June primary, but left the door open for the general election in November.

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

(CN) — Georgia voters will not receive new absentee ballot envelopes with free postage for the June 9 primary election, a federal judge ruled late Thursday.

Voters and fair election advocates argued in a virtual hearing last week that Georgia’s mail-in ballots impose an unconstitutional poll tax by requiring the increased number of absentee voters during the Covid-19 pandemic to provide their own postage stamps.

In a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the nonprofit Black Voters Matter Fund and a DeKalb County voter, American Civil Liberties Union attorneys claimed that the postage cost is tantamount to a voting fee outlawed by the 24th Amendment. 

The voting rights advocates urged the court to require election officials in the Peach State to send out new prepaid, returnable envelopes for both absentee ballots and applications. 

However, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg said in her 14-page ruling that the request is not realistic given the timeframe.

“Entering an order requiring the state to alter the absentee ballot envelopes regarding postage instructions or sending out postage now, when ballots have already been mailed to hundreds of thousands of voters, runs the risk that voters awaiting new instructions do not timely submit their ballots,” the Barack Obama appointee wrote.

The state had argued that millions of the envelopes have already been printed and that it could cost up to $4.2 million to design and print new, prepaid envelopes marked with different return addresses for Georgia’s 159 counties.

The court agreed that new absentee ballots could not be sent out before the June 9 election, but Totenberg reserved judgement for the August runoff and November general election.

“The court has denied relief as to the June 2020 primary election, but it would benefit the public for the parties to immediately discuss means to reach the goal of eliminating barriers to voting posed by the Covid-19 pandemic,” the judge wrote.

She recommended that both sides work together to provide instructions to voters on postage.

“For example, such an instruction might state that if a voter is unable to obtain postage, he or she should contact his or her local board of elections regarding other alternatives for delivery of the ballot,” Totenberg said.

The judge further suggested the state create a provision for allowing family members to hand-deliver ballots for people who are the most vulnerable to Covid-19 because of age or health conditions.

The court also said the voting rights groups and others could provide stamps to voters for the purpose of mailing in their absentee applications and ballots. 

“But just as the virus itself does not appear to be going away in the immediate future, neither may this issue,” Totenberg wrote.

As of Thursday, the Georgia secretary of state’s office said requests for absentee ballots have reached about 1 million. 

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