Common Cause Georgia, the Brennan Center ask Federal Judge to Require More “Emergency” Paper Ballots

Amicus brief says state’s current standards are too low: many polling locations ran out of ballots on June 9

Common Cause Georgia, represented by the Brennan Center for Justice, today took legal action to ensure voters would not be denied the right to vote in the November election, even if voting machines fail.  

“Our government ‘by the people’ is dependent on people being able to exercise their right to vote,” said Common Cause Georgia Executive Director Aunna Dennis. “Our elected officials have a duty to protect our right to vote — and that includes planning ahead, with contingency systems to make sure people are able to vote even if the voting machines fail.” 

“Unfortunately, our June primary elections showed that the current contingency plans are not sufficient. Although state Rules require polling places to have emergency ballots equal to 10% of the registered voters, many polling locations ran out of ballots on June 9,” Dennis said.

“Georgia still has time to ensure that polling places don’t run out of paper ballots,” said Gowri Ramachandran, Counsel, Election Security at Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “By increasing paper ballot orders now, county election officials will have one less thing to worry about in November.”

“States deploying similar voting systems have more robust back up plans. The North Carolina Board of Elections, for example, requires counties using ballot -marking devices to keep a supply of preprinted ballots on hand for 50% of registered voters,” said Susannah Goodman, Director of the Election Security Program at Common Cause.

Common Cause Georgia and the Brennan Center have repeatedly  urged the state to require more paper ballots at each polling site – but the state continues to use the 10% threshold as the minimum. 

“Many Georgians were denied their right to vote in the primary election, when machines failed and then the polling place ran out of paper ballots,” Dennis recalled. “That cannot happen again in November.”

Today, Common Cause Georgia asked federal District Court Judge Amy Totenberg to order the Secretary of State to ensure polling places have more emergency paper ballots than are currently required under state Board of Elections Rules.  

In an amicus brief filed in the long-running Curling v. Raffensperger lawsuit, Common Cause asked Judge Totenberg to require paper ballots equal to 40% of registered voters at each polling site. That number is based on projections of ballot usage during peak voting times, so voters will be able to vote at their polling place even in cases of voting system failures lasting three hours. 

The 40% calculation also includes the number of ballots that will be used for provisional voting. In Georgia, the same paper ballots are used both in emergencies and for provisional voting, although the ballots are processed differently after being voted. Yesterday, in a media story, the Secretary of State’s office announced procedural changes that will increase the number of in-person voters required to vote provisionally on Election Day.

“We filed this brief today because we know there will be a high demand for provisional and emergency paper ballots,” Dennis said. “We expect there will be high turnout. Polling places need to be prepared.”

In Curling v. Raffensperger, the plaintiffs sought relief for Georgia voters harmed by the insecurity of Georgia’s voter registration database, electronic pollbooks and ballot marking devices. Judge Totenberg has issued multiple rulings in the case, including one issued on Monday, September 28, 2020. In that ruling, Judge Totenberg ordered that election officials supply voting locations with a “sufficient” number of emergency paper ballots; but she did not define what amount would be “sufficient.” The state’s Rules define “sufficient” to be the 10% threshold that was used in June, when polling places ran out of ballots. 

“The new procedures announced yesterday could push the system past the breaking point. The procedures require all voters who have requested an absentee ballot to vote provisionally, unless a poll manager cancels their ballot,” Dennis said. “Add that to the kinds of issues we saw during the primaries with the failure of the voter check in system and the ballot marking devices, and we really have a perfect storm. Increasing the number of paper ballots available is critical to ensuring that even if there are troubles on Election Day, voting can continue.”

Read the Motion for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief here.

Read the Amicus Curiae Brief here.

Read the Appendix to Amicus Curiae Brief here.