Lawsuit argues postage cost to vote by mail in Georgia is a poll tax

ROSWELL, GA — The first-class mail postage rate increased to 41 cents on July 5, 2014. The stamp machine was sold out of the new stamps and the morning line was long at the Roswell post office on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. (BOB ANDRES / AJC staff)
ROSWELL, GA — The first-class mail postage rate increased to 41 cents on July 5, 2014. The stamp machine was sold out of the new stamps and the morning line was long at the Roswell post office on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. (BOB ANDRES / AJC staff)

A lawsuit filed Wednesday says the price of postage for voting by mail in Georgia is an unconstitutional poll tax because it makes voters pay to cast a ballot.

The federal lawsuit by Black Voters Matter asked a judge to require election officials to provide returnable envelopes with prepaid postage for absentee ballots and absentee ballot request forms.

Ballot postage costs voters at least 55 cents for a first-class stamp, or more for longer and heavier ballots.

Georgia's May 19 primary election will rely heavily on voting by mail because of the danger of spreading the coronavirus at in-person precincts.

“Many voters, especially lower-income voters, do not have postage stamps because they do not use them or cannot afford to buy a book of stamps just for elections,” according to the lawsuit. “Many voters do not have internet access or credit cards to purchase stamps online … and they do not want to needlessly expose themselves to the COVID-19 virus to buy stamps at a post office.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed the state's 6.9 million active voters absentee ballot request forms last week.

Georgia has always required voters to pay for postage if they mail their absentee ballots. The state has allowed anyone to vote absentee without having to provide an excuse since 2005.

Voters can avoid buying stamps if they deliver their ballots to county election offices in person before election day.

Absentee ballot request forms can be mailed or emailed.

“Because of the pandemic, the number of voters who mail in ballots will skyrocket,” said Sean Young, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Black Voters Matter. “It is all the more imperative that unconstitutional barriers like the poll tax be removed immediately.”