The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger
Issues: Whether Georgia’s requirement that absentee ballots be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day poses an unconstitutional infringement on the right to vote in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit
Status: Deadline extended to three days after Election Day by 7 p.m., appeal pending
This lawsuit was filed in May 2020 by The New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan voter-registration group, and several Georgia voters, including two Black women who are at high risk of serious complications from COVID-19 because of their age and chronic health issues. They argued that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic “is not limited to Georgians’ health; it also poses a serious threat to their right to vote.” And although they acknowledged that the decision by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to send out absentee-ballot applications to over two million voters was “laudable,” it was not enough. They asked U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross to block the state from enforcing several election laws and practices relating to absentee ballots in the upcoming November election.
In an order on Aug. 31, Ross rejected the challengers’ request with respect to several laws – for example, the state’s ban on “ballot harvesting,” which is the practice of collecting and returning other voters’ absentee ballots, and a challenge to the state’s failure to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots. But stressing that the “risk of disenfranchisement is great” under the current system, Ross barred the state from enforcing its law requiring all absentee ballots to be received by the time the polls close on Election Day. Instead, she ordered the state to accept and count any valid absentee ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and arrive within three business days after Election Day.
Raffensperger and state election officials went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, asking that court to put Ross’ order on hold while they appeal.
The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger Decided
The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger, No. 20-13360 (11th Cir. 2020)
The Eleventh Circuit decided that Georgia’s decades-old Election Day deadline for absentee ballots does not threaten voting rights and stayed the district court’s injunction of that deadline. Therefore Absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.
The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court misapplied the Anderson-Burdick framework when it enjoined the State defendants’ enforcement of a long-standing Georgia absentee ballot deadline, which requires ballots to be received by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. The district court, instead, manufactured its own ballot deadline so that the State is now required to count any ballot that was both postmarked by and received within three days of Election Day. Because the State defendants have met all four prongs of the Nken test, the court granted their motion to stay the injunction.
The court concluded that the State defendants have shown that they will likely succeed on the merits of their claim because the district court did not properly apply the appropriate framework. The court explained that Georgia’s decades-old absentee ballot deadline is both reasonable and nondiscriminatory, while its interests in maintaining that deadline (especially now that absentee voting has already begun) are at least “important”—as the district court itself recognized—and likely compelling. In this case, the district court erred by finding that Georgia’s Election Day deadline severely burdened the right to vote, and by improperly weighing the State’s interests against this burden. The court also concluded that Georgia will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay and a stay is in the public interest. Therefore, because Georgia’s decades-old Election Day deadline for absentee ballots does not threaten voting rights, and is justified by a host of interests, the court stayed the district court’s injunction of that deadline.
See Case PDFnew-georgia-project-202013360