2018 midterms

Judge Orders Brian Kemp to Send Absentee Ballots to Voters Rejected Under ‘Exact Match’ Rules

Georgia election supervisor Brian Kemp has many ways to block access to the polls. But he may have just lost one. Photo: John Amis/AP

In a small victory for voting rights advocates in their contest with Georgia secretary of State and GOP gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp over his efforts to deny voting rights to anyone with even trifling technical flaws in their voter registration paperwork, a federal district court judge is ordering county election officials to disregard Kemp’s instructions and stop rejecting absentee ballots and ballot requests that run afoul of Kemp’s “exact match” requirements for signatures. The Associated Press explains:

Georgia election officials must stop rejecting absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications because of a mismatched signature without first giving voters a chance to fix the problem, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Leigh May ordered the secretary of state’s office to instruct county election officials to stop the practice for the November midterm elections. She outlined a procedure to allow voters to resolve alleged signature discrepancies.

The same judge is still considering a request for an injunction against the rejection of voter registration applications on “exact match” grounds, which affects an estimated 47,000 voters, 70 percent of whom are African-American. It’s unclear how many absentee ballot applicants are affected by today’s ruling, but they number at least in the hundreds, and perhaps in the thousands. And that’s in the context of a race between Kemp (who is supervising his own election) and Democrat Stacey Abrams that is universally considered very close.

The heart of the absentee ballot injunction is to give those allegedly violating the “exact math” rules the benefit of the doubt, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes:

They “shall not reject any absentee ballots due to an alleged signature mismatch.” Instead, ballots should be marked provisional and would-be voters given “pre-rejection notice and an opportunity to resolve the alleged signature discrepancy.”

Voters rejected using the aforementioned process shall have the right to appeal.

Any absentee ballot applications where a signature mismatch is suspected also should not be rejected. Officials should instead “provide a provisional absentee ballot to the absentee voter along with information as to the process that will be followed in reviewing the provisional ballot.”

Kemp’s modus operandi in voting rights disputes is to require actually or potentially disenfranchised voters to show up and prove their eligibility. It’s an age-old white conservative approach in the Deep South, whereby even if voting rights are not outright denied, they are discouraged by every available means. And so it has required a whole battery of lawsuits to restore the full franchise to eligible voters. Some, like the absentee ballot suit, have succeeded, but others have failed or been unable to get a hearing in time for the approaching midterm elections.

And if Abrams manages to win, despite Kemp’s self-interest driven administration of the election, you can be sure this Trump ally and long-time vote suppressor will cry, Voter fraud!

Judge Tells Kemp to Stop Picky Rejection of Absentee Ballots