ACLU Challenges Illegal Voter Disfranchisement In Georgia
Group Represents Voters Unlawfully Refused Absentee Ballots In Jail
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ATLANTA – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in a federal court today challenging the illegal disfranchisement of two Georgia voters who were refused absentee ballots in the November 2008 election while incarcerated in DeKalb County Jail for minor offenses. The two DeKalb County residents were barred from receiving ballots because of a Georgia law prohibiting absentee ballots from being sent to an address other than a resident’s permanent mailing address except in cases when the voter is out of the county on Election Day.
“Because of an arcane and unconstitutional statute, our clients were wrongfully robbed of participating in this last historic presidential election,” said Nancy Abudu, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “In the state of Georgia, individuals incarcerated in jails retain their right to vote. It’s both absurd and unfair that nothing would have prevented our clients from voting had they been incarcerated in jails outside the county of their residence.”
According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the denial of absentee ballots to the ACLU’s clients violated their rights to equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution. Defendants in the lawsuit include Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel and the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections.
One of the individuals the ACLU is representing is Hassan Swann, a registered voter and resident of DeKalb County, who during the 2008 presidential election was incarcerated in DeKalb County Jail under a DUI charge. He gave his absentee ballot application to jail officials, and they submitted it for him. However, because he was jailed in the same county he resides in, DeKalb County elections officials denied Swann’s request to receive an absentee ballot at the jail. As a result, he was unable to vote in the November 2008 elections.
“I will never get the chance to go back and make my voice heard,” said Swann. “It’s especially disturbing to me that my vote was taken away because I was jailed in my hometown. I regret that I had a DUI, but that offense didn’t take away my right to vote and wouldn’t have if I had been jailed on the other side of the state.”
“Every eligible voter in Georgia, including those who are in jail, has the right to exercise his or her vote,” said Chara Fisher Jackson, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “We hope the court strikes down this law that is both ridiculous and illegal.”
Attorneys on the case, Swann et al. v. Baker et al., are Abudu and Laughlin McDonald of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Jackson of the ACLU of Georgia, and Atlanta civil rights attorneys Neil Bradley and Brian Spears.
A copy of today’s legal complaint is available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/41168lgl20090929.html
More information about the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights
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