New protections for Georgia absentee ballots settle lawsuits

3/19/19 - Lawrenceville - People vote on the MARTA referendum at Five Forks Middle School in Lawrenceville, Georgia on Tuesday, March 19, 2019. EMILY HANEY /

Credit: Emily Haney

Credit: Emily Haney

The battle over thousands of rejected absentee ballots appears to have come to an end.

Voters whose absentee ballots were thrown out because of a signature mismatch must be sent instructions on how to correct problems, according to a new state law that recently resolved two federal lawsuits.

The new ballot would be counted if it's returned within three days after Election Day along with proof of the voter's identity.

County election officials discarded more than 8,000 absentee ballots in the November election, often for minor transgressions such as marking the outside of the absentee ballot envelope incorrectly.

Judges issued orders at the time preventing election officials from discarding absentee and provisional ballots.

Then the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 316 in March, a broad elections bill that replaces the state's voting machines and makes many other changes to elections.

That legislation led to the lawsuits' dismissal.

“The parties agree that the above-cited provisions make further litigation of this matter unnecessary,” according to a joint stipulation for dismissal last month.

In addition to absentee ballots, the law also covers provisional ballots and election security:

  • Voters who return absentee ballots with missing or mismatched signatures can fix the problem by providing identification any time before all ballots are counted.
  • Election officials must review all available voter registration documentation to help verify that a person who cast a provisional ballot was eligible to vote. Officials can review information from a variety of government agencies. Last fall, some ballots were thrown out based on voter registration records alone.
  • Georgia must create security protocols for voter registration information, according to a separate measure, House Bill 392. The legislation came after voters reported their registration information had disappeared from election computers.

The parties in the lawsuits mutually agreed to their dismissal based on HB 316 and HB392, according to court filings from April and June. The lawsuits were filed last fall against then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp by Common Cause Georgia, the Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta.

In Other News