Appeals court stops more paper backups of Georgia voter records

DeKalb County residents vote early at the future Stonecrest City Hall in Stonecrest, Georgia, on Saturday, October 24, 2020. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
DeKalb County residents vote early at the future Stonecrest City Hall in Stonecrest, Georgia, on Saturday, October 24, 2020. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

A federal appeals court on Saturday ruled against requiring up-to-date paper copies of voter registration and absentee voting information at Georgia polling places on Election Day.

The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of a judge’s order that would have provided a backup copy of voter records in case computers fail on Nov. 3.

The panel’s two-page decision didn’t explain its reasoning. One of the judges dissented.

Attorneys for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had argued that printing paper backups would have been a “Herculean task” on the weekend before Election Day.

“We thank the 11th Circuit for recognizing that, with record turnout and the difficulties of conducting an election during a pandemic, local election officials have enough on their plates without last-minute additions from federal judges,” Raffensperger said Saturday.

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U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg last month had ordered election officials to prepare paper copies of records showing who is registered to vote and whether they’ve already voted, either by absentee ballot or during in-person early voting.

Paper backups could have helped prevent long lines if poll workers again struggle with the state’s new voter check-in tablets, called Poll Pads, as they did during Georgia’s June 9 primary, Totenberg wrote.

The 11th Circuit’s decision is the second time federal appellate courts have overturned recent election rulings in Georgia. A separate appeals panel previously reinstated Georgia’s deadline for absentee ballots to be returned by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, rejecting an effort to count ballots if they had been postmarked by Election Day.

The plaintiffs in the case, the Coalition for Good Governance, had said updated paper backups were needed to avoid the risk of a “complete meltdown" if the Poll Pad voter check-in technology fails.

Paper voter registration lists are required in Georgia, but they’ll be outdated by Nov. 3.

“Because the registered voter list does not include information on who has voted in early voting or requested a mail ballot, however, the registered voters list does not have the same information as the Poll Pads and cannot serve as a substitute for the Poll Pads,” according to a brief by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election security organization.

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U.S. Circuit Judges Andrew Brasher and Barbara Lagoa, both appointees of President Donald Trump, supported the stay of the paper backup requirement. U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, an appointee of President Barack Obama, dissented.

11th Circuit order on paper election backups

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