Early last month Vote.org sent out a breaking news announcement: the voting registration organization and platform with the goal of reaching historically underserved voters of color and underrepresented young voters was suing the Georgia State Elections Board over its “wet signature” rule. The requirement, approved by the board last fall, “creates deliberate and unlawful barriers to voting,” according to the non-profit. It was joined in the lawsuit by two other advocacy groups.
Prior to the board’s approval and passage of the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021, voters in Georgia could apply for an absentee ballot online, without filling out a paper form. As the rule stands today, eligible voters would need to print out their application, sign their mail-in ballot with a pen and mail it back. As Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams told Joy Reid last week, the change in the rules have “changed how people engage.”
“We know that people who would have voted by mail are having a difficult time doing so because of the wet signature requirements, that you have to print it out, sign it, and then take a picture and upload it and send it back, as opposed to being able to simply fill it out and send the absentee ballot request, and then send your ballot in,” Abrams said on the broadcast.
In 2018, Abrams attempt to become the first Black woman governor of any U.S. state fell short after voter suppression tactics enacted by the board, and overseen by her then opponent Brian Kemp, purged more than half a million people from the voter rolls. Still, her run mobilized voters in a significant way. Now, as a candidate once again, organizations are set on making sure these tactics don’t sway the election once again.
“Our lawsuit challenges Georgia’s “wet signature” rule, which imposes unnecessary roadblocks for voters, including elderly voters, voters with disabilities, and voters of color,” says Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey. “This requirement is in direct conflict with Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits election officials from denying an individual their right to vote because of minor errors in an application. It’s also contrary to Georgia’s acceptance of digital signatures for other official transactions.”
Despite any efforts to deter voters from casting a ballot, Georgia saw a record-breaking turnout. Close to 800,000 Georgians cast ballots early, an uptick from the 2018 election and the 2020 presidential election. The primary turnout on election day set recent records for a midterm. Still, advocates like Hailey aren’t getting comfortable. Instead, they are ramping up efforts to expand voting access.