Appeals court: Postage for absentee ballots isn’t a poll tax

Aug 27, 2021, 2:06 PM | Updated: 2:51 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court on Friday upheld a lower court’s ruling that said requiring voters to provide their own stamps for mail-in ballots and ballot applications does not amount to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The American Civil Liberties Union and its Georgia chapter filed a lawsuit in April 2020 saying that Georgia’s postage requirement for absentee ballots and ballot applications effectively imposes a poll tax and is therefore unconstitutional. The challenge was brought on behalf of voters and a group seeking to empower communities of color, the Black Voters Matter Fund.

“We hold that the fact that absentee voters in Georgia who decide to vote by mail must pay their own postage is not a ‘tax’ or unconstitutional fee on voting,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote in the opinion for a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

That affirmed an August 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg in Atlanta.

“We are disappointed in the outcome. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to protect the sacred fundamental right to vote,” ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean Young said. When asked if they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, he said, “All legal options remain on the table.”

Totenberg had acknowledged the potential difficulties of in-person voting, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, but she said that the fact that it’s available means that the postage requirement is not tantamount to an unconstitutional poll tax.

The 11th Circuit opinion notes that Georgia voters can cast a ballot in two main ways — in person or using the absentee process. They can vote in person on Election Day or during an early voting period. Absentee voters can return their ballots by mail, put them in a drop box or bring them directly to the county election office.

“While voting often involves incidental costs like transportation, parking, child care, taking time off work, and –for those who choose to vote absentee by mail — the cost of a postage stamp, those incidental costs do not mean that Georgia has imposed an unconstitutional poll tax or fee on its voters,” the 11th Circuit opinion says.

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Appeals court: Postage for absentee ballots isn’t a poll tax