Leading up to Georgia's gubernatorial elections, policies that supposedly contribute to voter suppression have been a major talking point. But on Wednesday, in a win for civil rights advocates, a federal judge issued a Georgia voting rules update that could protect absentee ballots from being thrown out due to the "signature mismatch" law.
The "signature mismatch" law directed Georgia election officials to void any absentee ballots or absentee ballot applications containing signatures that appeared to not match. Last week, the ACLU sued Georgia's secretary of state, Brian Kemp, as well as all county registrars for enacting the policy without any process for voters to fix the issue, which the organization says violates their right to due process. According to the lawsuit, election officials aren't given clear instructions on what constitutes a mismatch, and aren't formally trained to analyze handwriting samples.
U.S. District Judge Leigh May ordered the secretary of state's office to temporarily stop the practice for the November midterm elections, and included a procedure for voters to redress their signature mismatches. According to NBC News, May gave both sides until Thursday at 12 p.m. to respond on whether her ruling is "confusing or will be unworkable" for election workers. "This is not meant to be an opportunity to readdress the propriety of entering the injunction — only its form," she said, clarifying that she would consider any suggestions at that time, but then immediately issue the injunction.
The ACLU is also currently suing Kemp over Georgia's "exact match" rule, which mandates that all voter registration information exactly matches the state's database. Applications missing a hyphen or a middle name are at risk of being placed on a "pending" list. However, Judge May's Wednesday decision only addresses the signature mismatch rule.
The fact that Secretary of State Kemp is also the GOP nominee for governor this term has complicated the issue. Some have called Georgia's strict voting laws a conflict of interest for Kemp, but according to him, the accusations of voter suppression are false. "This farce about voter suppression and people being held up from being on the rolls … is absolutely not true," Kemp said Tuesday night at the Georgia gubernatorial debate.
His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams has made voting rights a central issue in her campaign. Responding to reports that Kemp suspended some 53,000 voter registration applications, from mostly black voters, for violating the "exact match" rule, she told CNN's Jake Tapper, "This is simply a redux of a failed system that is designed to both scare people out of voting and make it harder for those who are willing to push through, make it harder for them to vote."
Policies aside, Kemp does in fact seem worried about Georgians turning out in large numbers to vote. In tape of a Tuesday campaign event leaked to Rolling Stone, Kemp reportedly said that a high number of absentee ballots, expected as a result of Abrams' "get-out-the-vote" efforts is "something that continues to concern us."
"If everybody uses and exercises their right to vote — which they absolutely can — and mail those ballots in," he said, "we gotta have heavy turnout to offset that."