A federal judge ruled Georgia election officials must stop rejecting absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications because of a mismatched signature Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Leigh May ordered Georgia’s Secretary of State’s office to advise county election officials to halt the ‘exact match’ practice during the midterm elections. May outlined a process that would allow voters to fix any alleged signature discrepancies.
Two lawsuits filed earlier this month accused election officials of wrongly throwing out absentee ballots and applications. The cases cited a violation of constitutional rights.
Lawyers had filed emergency requests asking Judge May to initiate immediate changes while the legal case is underway.
The order comes just weeks ahead of Georgia’s hotly contested race for governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams, who could become the country’s first Black woman governor, and Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp.
Kemp has pushed strict voting laws that have disproportionately affected people of color in the state. The ‘exact match’ law requires all voter registrations to match government records precisely. A dropped middle initial or a misplaced hyphen can halt the process.
Abrams and Kemp have fought for years over voting rights. She says his policies make it harder for minorities to vote. Kemp insists otherwise.
Georgia law allows voters to cast an absentee ballot before an election regardless of whether they are able to vote in person on Election Day.
The law doesn’t allow voters to contest the allegation of a mismatched signature or to confirm their identity before rejection. The law gives no time frame given for voters to be notified of a rejection of their ballot.
The lawsuits state that this could result in voters being notified too late to fix the problem, threatening their right to vote.
May has given the order that any ballot questioned on the grounds of a signature mismatch must be marked as provisional. From there, voters will need to be sent a pre-rejection notice which would allow them to confirm their identity and have their vote counted up to three days after the election.