Georgia Sued Over Rule That Absentee Ballot Applications Be Signed in Ink

Three advocacy groups are suing the Georgia State Elections Board as they push to overturn the new state mandate requiring voters to use a "pen and ink" signature on absentee ballot applications.

In October 2021, the board approved rule changes for absentee ballots. Before, voters were able to apply online without filling out paper forms. The new rules require voters to print out absentee ballot applications, sign them with a pen and return them. Advocacy groups claim the new pen requirement is aimed to disenfranchise voters who rely on absentee voting.

Vote.org, Georgia Alliance for Retired Americans and Priorities USA have filed a civil action lawsuit against Georgia election officials. The plaintiffs argue that Georgia widely allows electronic signatures but recently changed the rules, making ballots valid only if they are signed with pen and ink, which is also referred to as a "wet signature requirement."

The lawsuit cites Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act, prohibiting election officials from denying the right to vote "because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application."

"Yet, in Georgia, an individual's application for an absentee ballot can be rejected simply because they used the wrong writing instrument," the lawsuit states. "Georgia law dictates that all absentee ballot applications must be signed with "pen and ink" (the "Pen and Ink Rule")—a requirement inserted without explanation into a haystack of voter suppression measures passed by the state legislature in response to record turnout in the 2020 general election and subsequent runoffs."

Georgia voters
Three groups are suing the State Elections Board in Georgia over the new rule forcing voters to use a "wet signature" on absentee ballot applications. Above, a demonstrator stands outside the Georgia Capitol building to oppose the HB 531 bill on March 3, 2021, in Atlanta. Getty Images

The coalition claims the state rule intentionally affects minority communities and those of lower income who may not have access to printers to fulfill the absentee application requirement.

"The requirement of a 'wet' signature on an absentee ballot application simply creates a pretext to unfairly disqualify voters, particularly Black and brown voters, from their constitutional right to vote," said Chairman of Priorities USA Guy Cecil in a statement. "This rule is yet another attempt by the Georgia Legislature to suppress voting rights."

The lawsuit claims election officials should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder. The groups say eliminating electronic signatures will unfairly target a large number of voters.

According to the U.S. Elections Project, which provides election statistics for the country, 1.7 million voters in Georgia, about 25.5 percent, requested mail ballots in 2020.

Mail-ballot requests now also require a pen signature, putting those 1.7 million voters at risk of not being able to complete the process, according to the lawsuit.

"Our Georgia members take the right to vote seriously and are the most likely to vote absentee," said Richard Fiesta, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. "This bizarre rule will certainly result in many Georgia seniors from being able to vote at all. Elected officials should make it easier for people to cast a ballot, not create unconstitutional schemes to suppress the vote."

Newsweek reached out to the Georgia State Elections Board for comment.