Federal appeals court rejects claim that Georgia requirement that voters pay postage for absentee/mail-in ballots amounts to a poll tax

On Aug. 27, 2021, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision finding that a Georgia law requiring voters to pay the price of postage for returning absentee/mail-in ballots does not constitute an illegal poll tax. The plaintiffs had argued that requiring absentee/mail-in voters to pay the price of postage amounted to levying a poll tax, violating the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The defendants (state and local election officials) moved to dismiss. A U.S. District Court granted the motion to dismiss, citing “[t]he fact that any registered voter may vote in Georgia on election day without purchasing a stamp, and without undertaking any ‘extra steps’ besides showing up at the voting precinct and complying with generally applicable election regulations.” The plaintiffs then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

The Eleventh Circuit panel—comprising Judges Elizabeth Branch (a Donald Trump (R) appointee), Britt Grant (another Trump appointee), and Edward Carnes (a George H.W. Bush (R) appointee)—unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Branch, writing for the court, said, “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.”

In response to the ruling, Sean Young, legal director for the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (which was involved in the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs), said, “We are disappointed in the outcome. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to protect the sacred fundamental right to vote.” Regarding the possibility of an appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, Young said, “All legal options remain on the table.”

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