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Judge rules ballots mailed by Nov. 3 in Georgia must count

An activist holds a sign outside the U.S. Post Office in San Mateo, Calif., on August 22 reminding voters to send in their ballots early so they are counted for the November 3 general election. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
An activist holds a sign outside the U.S. Post Office in San Mateo, Calif., on August 22 reminding voters to send in their ballots early so they are counted for the November 3 general election. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 1 (UPI) -- A federal judge has extended the deadline for absentee voting in Georgia, in a move that allows the state to accept some ballots that arrive after Election Day.

U.S. District Judge Eleanor Ross ruled that ballots must be counted if they're postmarked by Election Day, Nov. 3, and delivered within three days.

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Georgia joins 18 other states that already plan to accept ballots postmarked by Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Results are still required by state law to be certified within 17 days after the election.

The state expects to receive more mail ballots than usual for this year's election due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorneys for the New Georgia Project, a voter registration group, said in court as many as 60,000 ballots could arrive after Nov. 3.

Ross' 70-page order says the extension is needed to address voters' fears that their ballots might not count.

"Where the risk of disenfranchisement is great, as is the case here, narrowly tailored injunctive relief is appropriate," she wrote.

"As we take care of each other through a pandemic of historic proportions, we need to make sure that every vote counts," New Georgia Project Executive Director Nse Ufot said in a statement. "This is a commonsense solution to a problem we've been seeing for some time."

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The Democratic Party of Georgia called the ruling a "huge victory" for state voters.

"All Georgians deserve to have their voice heard, and in the midst of a global pandemic," state party Chair Nikema Williams said. "It is the responsibility of our democracy to make voting by mail and early voting options as accessible as possible."

Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs promised an "immediate" appeal.

"Extending the absentee ballot receipt deadline is a bad idea that will make it nearly impossible for election officials to complete their required post-election tasks in the timeline that is required by law," Fuchs said.

The U.S. Postal Service has said delays could affect absentee ballots and voters should send them in at least a week before Election Day, which would be Oct. 27.

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