(CN) – A federal judge ruled Friday that Georgia does not have to add nearly 100,000 voters back to its rolls, denying an injunction by a voting rights group led by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an Obama appointee, said a federal court could not force a state to accept its interpretation of state law. He said the advocacy group Fair Fight Action should look to the state courts for a ruling.
“The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution and the principles of sovereign immunity do not permit a federal court to enjoin a state (or its officers) to follow a federal court’s interpretation of the state of Georgia’s laws. Such interpretation is within the province of the state court,” Jones wrote in the 32-page ruling.
The battle over voter purges came to a head in 2018 when Abrams, a Democrat, ran against Republican Brian Kemp for governor. Kemp, who served as Georgia’s secretary of state from 2010 to 2018, purged more than 1.4 million voters during his time in office, with almost 670,000 in 2017 alone. He won the gubernatorial election after critics say he purged thousands of black voters from the system.
Voters who have no contact with the state after a certain amount of time are purged from the voter rolls, according to Georgia state law. While the no-contact period was three years, the state General Assembly changed it earlier in 2019 with House Bill 316 to a period of five years.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger argued that the new law does not apply retroactively to those who passed the no-contact period before the bill became law.
“Today Judge Jones upheld Georgia’s decision to maintain clean voter rolls. Despite activists’ efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayers’ dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate,” he said in a statement Friday.
Judge Jones also ruled that the group failed to show sufficient evidence that voters removed from the rolls would have their constitutional rights violated, saying that nothing can stop those voters from re-registering.
“Plaintiffs have failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the ‘no contact’ provision violates the First and 14th Amendments,” Jones wrote.
Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, said the group would continue to explore additional legal options.
“Our efforts to protect Georgia voters have already resulted in approximately 26,500 voters remaining on the rolls who would have otherwise been purged, and the State is now required to take additional steps to notify purged voters as a result of our litigation,” Groh-Wargo said in a statement.