Yesterday, in a win for the voters of Georgia, a federal district court allowed a lawsuit challenging anti-voter provisions in Georgia’s S.B. 202 to proceed to trial. The U.S. District Court ruled that elements of the S.B. 202 law could violate nonpartisan civic engagement groups’ right to free speech. The case can now head to trial.
The Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information filed suit in April 2021 to block enforcement of parts of Georgia’s anti-voter law, S.B. 202, that restrict the distribution of vote-by-mail applications to voters. The lawsuit alleges that S.B. 202 violates nonpartisan civic engagement groups’ First Amendment right to core political speech by restricting their ability to engage with voters. In so doing, these provisions create deliberate barriers to voting, primarily in communities of color, restricting Georgians’ freedom to vote. Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Smith Gambrell Russell and Councill, and Gunnemann & Chally represented the non-profits in their lawsuit.
“All of the work that we have done is aimed at one mission: to make sure that underrepresented voters are able to have their voice heard in their democracy. We are optimistic that this trial will give Georgia voters their day in court, and show that the provisions in S.B. 202 would make it more difficult to vote, especially for 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 have been proven time and time again to help Georgians cast their ballots. That’s why we fought back – to protect programs that we know help eligible Georgia voters. We reject this assault on democracy and will keep working to ensure every eligible American can make their voice heard.”
“Georgia’s election experience has demonstrated the overwhelming need for election laws that allow voters to cast their ballot safely and freely, so that every voice is heard and elections reflect the will of the voters,” said Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “S.B. 202 limits core political speech protected by the First Amendment, and we are glad to have the opportunity to prove that in court. At the end of the day, S.B. 202’s effort to restrict civic engagement groups ultimately punishes voters, who otherwise might not be able to make their voice heard in our democracy.”
“Voting rights are civil rights,” said Kadie D’Ambrosio, counsel at Councill, Gunnemann & Chally. “This case presents important issues affecting Georgia voters, and we’re pleased to participate in this effort to protect the democratic process.”
S.B. 202, a massive anti-voter bill passed in March 2021, made numerous changes to Georgia’s election system that, among other things, prohibited civic engagement groups from effectively distributing vote-by-mail applications. Specifically, S.B. 202 required all such applications to bear a false and misleading disclaimer, banned the personalization of vote-by-mail applications, and imposed administrative burdens that would have made it nearly impossible for nonpartisan civic engagement groups to distribute vote-by-mail applications to voters.
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 height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains the case for Black and brown voters, voters in rural areas, and young voters who are more likely to lack the means or opportunity to obtain and prepare vote-by-mail ballot applications on their own.
This lawsuit has already spurred a legislative change to fix and remove the false and misleading disclaimers that S.B. 202 required all vote-by-mail applications to include. The remaining elements of the lawsuit will be heard at trial in 2024.
The Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information are non-profit, non-partisan organizations founded in 2003 to help members of the New American Majority – unmarried women, people of color and young people – register and vote. Since then, the organizations have helped over 6 million people register and cast ballots.