Georgia Ordered to Accept Mail Ballots 3 Days After Election

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Georgia officials must count mailed ballots that arrive as late as three days after the Nov. 3 presidential election, a federal judge ruled, in a victory for a voting rights group that’s registering people of color in the state.

U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross in Atlanta agreed that the current deadline for accepting ballots, 7 p.m. on Election Day, would unfairly restrict voting amid an expected surge in mailed ballots because of the coronavirus. Votes must still be postmarked by Election Day. The plaintiffs had requested a seven-day extension.

“In crafting this remedy, the court by no means discounts the challenges absentee voters face amid the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ross, an appointee of Barack Obama, said in her ruling on Monday. “However, the court must balance these difficulties with the need to honor the state’s legitimate interest in certifying the election.”

Ross denied a request to give the state a deadline for alerting voters when election officials can’t identify them based on information on their ballot applications. Georgia law requires only that applicants be alerted “promptly,” but the judge ruled there is no evidence that the ambiguity harms voters.

The risk is “at most, minimal,” she said. “Additionally, the statute does not prohibit or preclude a voter from correcting the deficiency, utilizing early voting, or voting in person.”

Ross also denied a request to make Georgia pay for postage on absentee ballots, saying the plaintiffs weren’t likely to succeed on that argument at trial. The suit alleged that making voters buy stamps during the pandemic amounted to an illegal poll tax.

The lead plaintiff, the New Georgia Project, which has registered nearly half a million voters in the state, is represented in the case by Marc Elias, one of the top election lawyers for Democrats. In an email, he said his client won “on the most important issue” in the suit.

The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who oversees elections in the state, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment on the ruling. An after-hours phone call wasn’t answered.

Georgia had argued that intervention by the court would amount to “experimentation” with an election.

“An independent assessment determined that Georgia is one of the most prepared states in the country to address challenges of conducting elections during a pandemic,” the state said in an Aug. 12 filing.

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