Wednesday, October 24, 2018
In her Order & Opinion in Martin v. Kemp, United States District Judge Leigh Martin May stated she would enjoin county election officials from simply rejecting absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots due to an "alleged signature mismatch" but shall instead follow additional procedures. There has reportedly been some controversy regarding the Defendant Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, who is also a candidate for Governor, and the voter restrictions he oversees.
Judge May found that the plaintiffs and plaintiff organizations had standing, there was no laches, and that a facial challenge was appropriate. She also concluded that there was a substantial likelihood of success on the procedural due process challenge (and thus did not reach the other constitutional challenges).
Judge May quickly concluded that the plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the right to vote by absentee ballot:
While Defendants correctly assert that the right to apply for and vote via absentee ballot is not constitutionally on par with the fundamental right to vote, once the state creates an absentee voting regime, they “must administer it in accordance with the Constitution.” Indeed, the Supreme Court has long held that state- created statutory entitlements can trigger due process. 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.
Turning to the issue of the process that is due, Judge May applied the well-known Mathews v. Edlridge (1976) factors. On the first factor weighing the private interest at issue, Judge May stated that the interest implicated the fundamental right to vote and as such was "entitled to substantial weight." On the second factor regarding the risk of erroneous deprivation and the probative value, if any, of additional procedural safeguards, Judge May found that while "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." On the third and final factor requiring the court to examine the government’s interest, including “the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail,” Judge May concluded that "Defendants cannot cry foul with regard to the burden of additional procedures given that Defendants conceded at oral argument that counties already permit voters to verify their signatures through extrinsic evidence on an ad hoc basis." Further, the remedy of the voter simply showing up did not apply to voters who vote by mail because they cannot show up in person. Thus, Judge May found there was likely a procedural due process problem.
The judge's Order included a proposed injunction, giving the parties until noon on October 25 to object to the form of the injunction, stressing that this was not an "opportunity to readdress the propriety" of the injunction, only whether the language of the injunction would be confusing or unworkable for election officials.