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Judge blocks Georgia from rejecting absentee ballots due to mismatched signatures

By Daniel Uria

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- A federal court on Wednesday blocked the state of Georgia from throwing out absentee ballots and applications in cases when a voter's signature doesn't match their paper work.

District Judge Leigh Martin May issued a temporary restraining order on a state law that allows election officials to throw out absentee ballots over signature discrepancies without notifying voters.

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May ruled that officials should be required to allow voters to contest election officials' determinations and prove their identity.

"The court does not understand how assuring that all eligible voters are permitted to vote undermines integrity of the election process. To the contrary, it strengthens it," May said.

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"While the court recognizes that the risk of an erroneous deprivation is by no means enormous, permitting an absentee voter to resolve an alleged signature discrepancy nevertheless has the very tangible benefit of avoiding disenfranchisement."

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian-Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, and the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda against Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and county registrars.

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The ACLU said Georgia's law doesn't require elections officials to receive training in handwriting analysis or signature comparison and that no statute exists in the state to distinguish differences between signatures.

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State officials countered that there is no federal constitutional right to vote by absentee ballot and the state outlines the absentee voting process in its election code.

In her ruling, May sided with the plaintiffs, saying the state must provide protection to voters.

"Having created an absentee voter regime through which qualified voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote, the state must now provide absentee voters with constitutionally adequate due process protection," she said.

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May provided Georgia's secretary of state office until noon Thursday to respond to her proposal before she enters an injunction.

"This is not meant to be an opportunity to readdress the propriety of entering the injunction -- only its form," she said.

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