Civic Participation Groups File Suit to Protect Georgians’ Freedom to Vote and Stop Restrictive Anti-Voter Laws

Issues

VoteAmerica v. Raffensperger Seeks to Protect Georgia Voters’ Freedom to Vote

Atlanta, GA. -- Today, a coalition of civic participation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to block the state from restricting the distribution of vote-by-mail applications to voters in the state. Recent changes to Georgia law approved by the Georgia legislature will create deliberate barriers to voting, primarily in communities of color, denying voters the freedom to vote. 

In March 2021, the Georgia General Assembly passed S.B. 202, an omnibus bill that makes numerous changes to Georgia’s election system that, among other things, denies those who need assistance their freedom to vote. These changes to Georgia’s election code prohibit the Secretary of State, county election officials and other government officials from sending vote-by-mail applications directly to any voter unless the voter specifically requests one. The law also prohibits anyone from aiding a voter by prefilling a voter’s information in a vote-by-mail application—a critical tool for many online voter assistance platforms.

“Georgia’s recent election experience demonstrated the overwhelming support for election laws that allow voters to cast their ballot safely and freely, whether they live in a small town or big city, so that every voice is heard and elections in the state reflect the will of the voters,” said Paul Smith, vice president for litigation and strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “S.B. 202, will no doubt, put up barriers to silence Georgia voters by limiting core political speech protected by the First Amendment.”   

Many Georgia voters rely on third party groups to provide them with prefilled and preprinted absentee ballot applications that they can easily review and submit to their county elections official without need for a broadband internet connection or access to a printer or scanner at home. This was particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020/2021 election cycle, but remains the case for voters in rural areas, young voters and voters of color who often disproportionately lack the means or opportunity to obtain and prepare absentee ballot applications on their own.

“In the 2020 general election and 2021 runoff elections, millions of Georgians requested, received and cast their votes by mail and even Secretary of State Raffensperger declared that both elections were conducted safely and securely,” said VoteAmerica founder and CEO Debra Cleaver. “It is painfully clear that the actual goal of S.B. 202 is to suppress minority votes. It disregards the voice and the will of Georgia voters who turned out in unprecedented numbers in 2020 and 2021. It ignores the objections of national voter protection, pro-democracy and civil rights groups. S.B. 202 is egregious, it perpetuates disinformation and it blatantly targets communities of color.”

S.B. 202 makes it nearly impossible for third party organizations to distribute vote-by-mail applications to voters. Furthermore, the law now imposes a $100 fine for every application sent by an organization to a person who has already requested, received or voted using an absentee ballot—a major financial disincentive for nonprofit groups trying to aid with absentee ballot applications to registered voters.

“It’s clear: S.B. 202 makes it more difficult for Georgians to vote, especially the New American Majority – people of color, young people and unmarried women,” said Tom Lopach, president and CEO of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Voter Participation Center (VPC) and Center for Voter Information (CVI). “This law makes it virtually impossible to run vote-by-mail application programs that help Georgians cast their ballots. That’s why we’re fighting back today against this assault on democracy and will keep working to ensure every American can make their voice heard.” 

On April 7, 2021, CLC filed suit on behalf of VoteAmerica, Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information, challenging S.B. 202 as violating those organizations’ First Amendment right to distribute vote-by-mail applications as core political speech. 

* Co-counsel in the case also include Rogers & Hardin LLP.

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