Judge moves to block Georgia election officials from tossing out absentee ballots

A federal district court judge said she will issue an order to temporarily block election officials in Georgia from tossing out absentee ballots or applications when a voter’s signature does not match the signature on their voter registration card. 

Judge Leigh Martin May, on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, said election officials should have to notify voters first before they can reject absentee ballots with mismatched signatures.

May gave Georgia's Secretary of State office as well as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and county registrars, until noon on Thursday to respond to her proposal. 

The judge said she will then consider their suggestions and immediately enter an injunction. 

"This is not meant to be an opportunity to readdress the propriety of entering the injunction — only its form," she said. 

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 The Republican secretary of state is running against Democrat Stacey Abrams in a close race for governor.
 
Kemp's office directed The Hill's requests for comment to the State Attorney General's Office, which said it's unable to comment on active litigation. 
 
ACLU's lawsuit challenges state law that allows election officials to reject an absentee ballot if they think there is a signature mismatch in the voter’s paperwork.

The ACLU said the law does not require elections officials to receive training in handwriting analysis or signature comparison, and no statute or regulation provides functional standards to distinguish the natural variations of one writer from other variations that suggest two different writers. 

The civil rights group further argued in court filings that voters should be notified first and given an opportunity to appeal before their ballot is rejected.

State officials, however, argued there is no federal constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot and therefore procedural due process protections apply only to the extent that the State of Georgia has conferred the right to vote by absentee ballot through the process set forth in its election code.

May appeared to disagree.

“Having created an absentee voter regime through which qualified voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote, the state must now provide absentee voters with constitutionally adequate due process protection,” she said.

In a statement Wednesday, Sophia Lakin, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, called the development a huge victory. 

“This ruling protects the people of Georgia from those who seek to undermine their right to vote,” she said.   

Updated at 4:54 p.m.