ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Black Voters Matter challenging the constitutionality of requiring voters to buy postage stamps when submitting mail-in absentee ballots and mailing in absentee ballot applications. This is tantamount to a poll tax.
The legal claim is straightforward. The United States Constitution bans poll taxes. Postage costs money. Election officials require Georgia voters to pay postage, amounting to a poll tax. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has made it unrealistic for most, if not all, voters to cast ballots in-person, the state is essentially forcing voters to pay in order to participate in our democracy.
The ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction to require election officials to provide prepaid returnable envelopes for absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications. Election officials already know how to do this, because the law already requires them to provide postage prepaid returnable envelopes for other purposes.
Black Voters Matter v. Raffensperger was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. The lawsuit is about historically marginalized voters who live on shoestring budgets and lack access to all the resources that wealthier people take for granted.
The lawsuit states in part: “Many lower-income voters do not have postage stamps. They no longer need to use them or have never needed to use them. They cannot be expected to needlessly expose themselves to the pandemic just to get stamps in order to vote. That assumes they can even get there, when many do not have cars and ride-sharing and public transportation is non-existent in rural parts of the state.
Voters without Internet access or a credit card cannot buy stamps online, and if they do, they must unnecessarily purchase an unaffordable book of stamps (about $10) because they aren’t allowed to buy just one. Making matters worse, voters are left guessing about how much postage to use because ballots vary in size and weight. So they must add potentially unnecessary extra postage just to be safe from the risk of being disenfranchised.. It hardly bears mention that few people actually own stamp scales.”
Moreover, under binding legal precedent, a poll tax remains illegal regardless of whether “free” alternatives exist, such as voting in-person. During this highly contagious pandemic, expecting Georgians to place themselves and vulnerable loved ones in danger is unconscionable.
The ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that no Georgia voter has to pay a poll tax to vote in the upcoming elections. At a minimum, poll taxes should be eliminated well before the November general election.
The following are comments from Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter Fund.
“By refusing to provide voters with postage paid envelopes, the secretary of state has not only imposed a poll tax on individual voters, he has placed an undue burden on the organizations dedicated to increasing voter turnout. His failure has forced organizations such as ours and local community groups to shift time and money to dealing with the postage issue. Every minute and every dime we spend helping voters to navigate the postage requirement means we have fewer resources for other voter mobilization efforts. Given the history of the secretary of state’s office viewing voter mobilization organizations as threats, rather than vital components in strengthening democracy, one can’t help but wonder if this undue burden was actually one of his objectives.”
Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “No one should have to choose between protecting their health and their right to vote. Voting by mail will be the safest option for many voters. In failing to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots, Georgia is creating an unconstitutional obstacle to voting. We won’t allow for a modern-day poll tax.”
Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia: “Because of the pandemic, the number of voters who mail in ballots will skyrocket. It is all the more imperative that unconstitutional barriers like this poll tax be removed immediately.”
Black Voters Matter v. Raffensperger was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.