Judge upholds limits on mass mailings of Georgia absentee ballot forms

Absentee mailing rules imposed by Georgia voting law

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

A federal judge has denied an attempt by advocacy organizations to throw out a part of Georgia’s voting law that prohibits mailing multiple absentee ballot applications to voters.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee leaves in place restrictions on sending absentee ballot request forms after voters were swamped with repeated solicitations during the 2020 election year. Some voters complained that they kept receiving letters imploring them to apply for absentee ballots, even after they had already done so.

The decision arrived as several lawsuits are challenging the voting law passed last year, Senate Bill 202, which also limits ballot drop boxes, requires additional ID to vote absentee, allows state takeovers of county election boards and bans handing out food and water to voters waiting in line.

Boulee said groups can still mail absentee ballot applications, but the law prevents them from sending forms to Georgians who have already requested a ballot or voted.

“The Georgia Legislature struck a balance. It required third parties to consult the state voter roll and refrain from sending duplicate applications,” Boulee wrote in a June 30 order denying a motion for preliminary injunction. “To be sure, avoiding voter confusion and administering effective elections are important regulatory interests.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, argued the law limited their First Amendment free speech rights. They’d face a $100 fine for each duplicate absentee ballot application processed by county election offices.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the ruling shows that Georgia’s voting law withstands court scrutiny.

“This is a huge win for election integrity,” Raffensperger said. “This law has commonsense reforms that will help ensure smooth, secure and accessible elections in Georgia.”

The plaintiffs told the court it was “logistically impossible” for them to avoid mailing duplicate absentee ballot applications because they’re prepared weeks in advance, with over 11 million mailed during the 2020 election cycle. This year, the groups plan to mail fewer absentee ballot applications around Aug. 22, the first day voters can request application forms, to avoid the risk of running afoul of the law.

“The decision by the court to allow SB 202 to go into effect in the 2022 elections is a major setback for Georgia’s voters and their access to vote by mail,” said Tom Lopach, president and CEO for the Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information. “But the fight is not over. We will keep pushing in court.”

While Boulee rejected the plaintiffs’ attempt to immediately enjoin the law, the underlying suit will continue through the court process. The voting law also bans state and local governments from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.

Boulee ruled last year against different provisions in the voting law that would have prohibited photographing or recording ballots outside of polling places, including during vote counts, recounts and audits. It remains illegal to photograph completed ballots in polling places while voting is underway.

Boulee has upheld another part of the law that required voters to request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day.