A federal judge on Monday said Georgia absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day must be counted, adding a new wrinkle to ongoing discussions about mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision from U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross extends a previous deadline that would have rejected absentee ballots that arrived after 7 p.m. on Election Day. Officials will be required to count absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 and arriving within three business days of it, according to the 70-page order.
“Extending the deadline would ensure that voters who receive their ballots shortly before Election Day are able to mail their ballots without fear that their vote will not count,” Ross wrote in the order.
She issued the order just months after New Georgia Project, a voter registration group, filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction blocking officials from enforcing Georgia’s 7 p.m. deadline.
The complaint also asked a court to order free ballot postage and the automatic mailing of absentee ballots to registered voters, among other things. However, Ross denied those requests.
Attorneys for Georgia had argued that an extension could cause chaos and a long delay in the counting of ballots following Election Day, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But Ross said “narrowly tailored injunctive relief is appropriate” given the risk of disenfranchisement amid the pandemic.
“The Court emphasizes that the equitable relief it provides is limited to the November 2020 election during these extraordinary times,” Ross wrote.
The order was handed down as concerns grow about how ready states are for an expansion in mail-in voting during the health crisis.
Democratic lawmakers have raised fears about mail delays at the U.S. Postal Service and how they could impact the election.
The Postal Service sent letters to more than 40 states earlier this year warning of “inconsistencies” between its delivery service and state deadlines for receiving and counting mail-in ballots.
The decision in Georgia will likely mean tens of thousands of ballots more will be counted, The Journal Constitution noted. More than 8,000 absentee ballots were reportedly rejected in the state’s primary elections earlier this year.