SOURCE: Southeastern Legal Foundation

Center for America

July 07, 2015 13:00 ET

County Board of Elections and Registration Apologizes, Enacts New Policy

Georgia Voter "NRA Instructor" Hat; Federal Lawsuit Settled -- Voters Protected

ATLANTA, GA--(Marketwired - July 07, 2015) - Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) today announced the final settlement of a case that captured national attention involving Bundy Cobb, a Douglas County, Georgia voter, who was forbidden from voting in October 2014 unless he removed his hat, which has an "NRA Instructor" logo on it. Cobb was told by an elections official that the NRA is perceived to be "associated with the Republicans." Bundy Cobb v. Douglas County, Georgia, et al., Case No. 14-3898-CAP.

The Douglas County Board of Elections and Registration (BOER) and the individual defendants, including Voter Registration Clerk Constance Bowen and Elections Supervisor Laurie Fulton, agreed to the following as a result of the federal lawsuit alleging violations of Cobb's constitutional rights:

  • The BOER has adopted a formal policy forbidding poll workers and elections officials from banning persons who are wearing clothing or displaying other materials that are not directly related to candidates or issues on the ballot.
  • The BOER has issued a public apology letter to Cobb, acknowledging that "you should not have been asked to remove your NRA Instructor hat, and I am sorry that you were asked to do so." The apology letter cites the new policy adopted by the Board "to ensure that it protects the rights of all persons in or around polling places in Douglas County."

During the litigation, Attorney General Sam Olens issued an Opinion on O.C.G.A. § 21-2-414 dealing with prohibited distribution and display of 'campaign materials.' General Olens wrote, "the statute only applies to written or printed material that concerns a campaign for a candidate or referendum being voted upon at the polling place."

Further, "[w]ere O.C.G.A. § 21-2-414(a) to be read as restricting expressive material beyond those specific subjects at issue at the poll, it would likely run afoul of the First Amendment . . . if [the statute] were understood to reach speech other than campaign speech involving candidates and issues at the poll, it could be unconstitutional." (Opinion of Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General of Georgia, March 20, 2015.)

Noting the importance of the constitutional voting rights issues raised in the litigation, the Georgia General Assembly in March began consideration of Senate Bill 199, designed to further define the term 'campaign materials' to protect Georgia voters from arbitrary decisions by local elections officials. State Sen. Rick Jeffares introduced the bill, which will be considered in the 2016 legislative session. The bill defines prohibited 'campaign material' to mean any printed material referring to 1) a candidate whose name appears on the ballot, 2) a referendum which appears on the ballot, or 3) a political party or body which has a nominee or nominees on the ballot.

"I believe it is important that citizens take a stand in defense of our constitutional liberties and against actions by government at any level we believe threaten those liberties," said Bundy Cobb. "By bringing a federal court lawsuit, our goal from the beginning was to protect all voters in Georgia and across the United States from unwarranted restrictions on our voting rights."

"With the acknowledgement, apology and policy change by the Douglas County BOER, as well as a strong opinion by our state's Attorney General in defense of constitutional rights as they relate to Georgia voter laws, we have achieved our goals," said Cobb. "I want to thank Southeastern Legal Foundation, which I selected as my attorneys in this case because I know their forty-year track record of defending constitutional rights, for their efforts in successfully advocating for me and defending our rights as Americans."

"Bundy Cobb represents thousands of Georgians and millions of Americans who meet their civic obligations and exercise their rights with the firm conviction that the government should not infringe on the constitutional rights of citizens," said Shannon L. Goessling, SLF executive director and chief legal counsel representing Cobb. "Bundy Cobb could have been subject to civil and criminal penalties for alleged violations of state voting law, but he stood his ground and displayed the courage of his convictions. It is often one person with the determination to see things through to a final victory who makes the difference for the public at large, and this is why we honor his courage by representing him in this matter."

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