A federal district court judge has issued an order temporarily blocking Georgia election officials from tossing out absentee ballots or applications when a voter’s signature does not match the signature on their voter registration card, in a major win for voter rights groups.
Judge Leigh Martin May ordered Georgia election officials to notify voters first before they can reject absentee ballots with mismatched signatures.
The order comes in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging a Georgia state law that allows election officials to reject an absentee ballot if they think there is a signature mismatch in the voter’s paperwork.
May gave the ACLU, which had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and county registrars, and Kemp’s office until noon on Thursday to respond to her proposal. May said she will consider their suggestions and immediately enter an injunction.
“This is not meant to be an opportunity to readdress the propriety of entering the injunction — only its form,” she said.
The ACLU argued that Georgia’s “exact-match” law does not require elections officials to receive training in handwriting analysis or signature comparison. They also argued that Georgia voters should be notified first and given an opportunity to appeal before their ballot is rejected.
State officials contend that there is no federal constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot and therefore procedural due process protections apply only to the extent that the State of Georgia has conferred the right to vote by absentee ballot through the process set forth in its election code.
“Having created an absentee voter regime through which qualified voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote, the state must now provide absentee voters with constitutionally adequate due process protection,” May said on Wednesday.
“This ruling protects the people of Georgia from those who seek to undermine their right to vote,” said Sophia Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state, is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams in a neck-and-neck race for governor.