ACLU federal lawsuit: Postage to vote by mail amounts to poll tax

    The ACLU of Georgia filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking that the Georgia Secretary of State be required to send prepaid stamped envelopes for absentee ballot applications for the May 19 primary. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

    A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union against Georgia’s Secretary of State claims it’s unconstitutional for Georgia to require voters to pay for postage to mail absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications in the upcoming May 19 election.

    The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the voter engagement organization Black Voters Matter Fund and a DeKalb County voter, argues elections officials should provide prepaid stamps on the absentee ballot applications and ballots. Making voters pay for postage amounts to a poll tax, the suit says.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger recently sent 6.9 million absentee ballot applications to active voters in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The lawsuit asks for an injunction to stop voting until envelopes with prepaid postage envelopes are mailed. Voters without internet access would be forced to risk their health going out in public to purchase stamps, the lawsuit says.

    Some voters might also struggle to find a ride to the post office because they live in rural areas without public transportation or can’t afford ride-share services.

    “Many lower-income voters do not have postage stamps,” the lawsuit says. “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.”

    The absentee ballot applications offer an option for voters to scan or photograph a signed form and then email it to their local election office. 

    The Secretary of State’s Office estimates taxpayers will pay about $13 million to send out the applications and then the ballots if voters provide their own stamps. 

    Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of Black Voters Matter Fund, said the organization is redirecting resources because of the postage issue.

    “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,” he said in a statement.

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.