Federal Judge Dismisses Georgia Voters’ Suit Over Long Poll Lines

People showed up by the hundreds to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga., Monday. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — A federal judge in Georgia Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by voters challenging long lines at the polls, finding that election officials have already made sufficient changes to shorten voting wait times in the state after a June 2020 primary in which some voters waited for hours to cast their ballots.

In a 78-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Michael Brown said the plaintiffs in the case cannot show that long lines at the polls on Election Day are “all but certain” to occur in Georgia. The judge cited voting system improvements made after a disastrous June primary election that left some voters waiting outside precincts into the late evening. 

“The predictive value of Georgia’s past elections is simply too limited to tell us (with the requisite certainty) what will happen in November,” Brown wrote. “Georgia revamped its voting equipment and voting process in 2020, so elections before then reveal little about elections today.”

Brown’s decision comes one day after the Peach State experienced record-breaking voter turnout on the first day of early voting there, leading once again to long lines and hours-long waits at polling places in the metro Atlanta area.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, turnout increased by 42% compared to the previous record set on the first day of in-person voting ahead of the November 2016 election. Nearly 130,000 voters cast in-person ballots Monday.

The lawsuit, filed by the Democratic Party of Georgia and three Atlanta voters, sought an injunction to force election officials to reallocate voting computers, increase poll worker training, require more rigorous equipment testing, and order the use of paper ballots when wait times exceed 30 minutes.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit claimed they waited in line at their polling place in the June primary election for more than 8 hours before finally voting at 1 a.m.

The judge ruled Tuesday that state election officials have taken sufficient steps to address the lack of sufficient poll workers, technicians, backup paper pollbooks, and emergency paper ballots at polling sites that plagued prior elections.

But Brown, a Donald Trump appointee, also noted that the June 2020 primary was “unique in ways that make it an unreliable guide to future elections” thanks to the introduction of a new $107 million voting system and complications arising from the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“This time Defendants have had months to prepare for it based on the experience and lessons of a prior ‘pandemic election,’” the judge wrote.

According to the ruling, some registered voters in Fulton County, for example, have been removed from high-traffic polling locations to reduce wait times at the polls and the county has increased its voting locations from 164 in June 2020 to 255 in November 2020.

A September ruling in another Georgia voting rights case requires every polling location in the state to have at least one backup paper pollbook in case electronic pollbooks malfunction. 

“It is possible, of course, these measures will ultimately prove insufficient and long lines will still arise. But that is not the point; no one, including this Court, can guarantee short lines,” Brown wrote.

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