A proposed class action filed in Georgia claims the state’s requirement that voters pay for their own postage on mail-in absentee ballots amounts to an unconstitutional poll tax. Filed in part by the Black Voters Matter Fund, the case claims the alleged tax is especially egregious considering the COVID-19 pandemic has made voting in person an unrealistic option for “most if not all voters”—especially among marginalized populations who lack access to resources.
Citing the ease with which the novel coronavirus can spread, the lawsuit stresses that voting in person during a global pandemic “unnecessarily endangers the health and safety of voters” and poll workers, many of whom are elderly. Given these circumstances, and in the midst of a state of emergency in Georgia, many voters decided to “vote from the safety of their homes” by mailing in absentee ballots, the suit explains. The case alleges, however, that voters are subject to what is essentially an unconstitutional poll tax prohibited under the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in that they’re required by Georgia election officials use their own postage when submitting mail-in absentee ballots and applications.
The lawsuit argues that even though a poll tax is considered illegal even when free options are available, the option to vote in person “does not really exist” under the current circumstances due to strict social distancing guidelines and the Georgia governor’s order that citizens shelter in place. Moreover, it is “extraordinarily difficult if not impossible” for elderly, disabled, or out-of-town voters to vote in person in order to avoid paying for postage, the suit adds.
The requirement that voters pay for stamps in order to cast absentee ballots, though negligible for many Georgia citizens, poses a significant problem for those “living on the margins,” particularly lower-income voters who may lack access to resources that wealthier citizens “take for granted,” the lawsuit says. According to the case, those living on “shoestring budgets” may not already have stamps in their possession and face difficulties in obtaining postage due to an inability to buy stamps online, obtain transportation to a post office, or put aside work or childcare responsibilities to buy stamps.
“For these vulnerable voters, the postage stamp requirement imposes a serious burden that is unfathomable to wealthier people,” the complaint states.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Georgia’s Secretary of State and the Dekalb County Board of Registration & Elections, which the case looks to appoint as defendant representatives of all 159 Georgia county boards of registrars.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to provide postage prepaid envelopes for absentee ballots and applications in Georgia, noting that “there is nothing especially mysterious or difficult” about doing so. The case adds that several other states have supplied postage prepaid envelopes for mail-in absentee voters, and the defendants themselves have provided such for other purposes.