Voter Discrimination Case Against Georgia Advances

Paperwork and voting stickers sit out for voters of the Georgia primary election on July 24, 2018, at the Chattanooga Valley Church of the Nazarene in Flintstone, Georgia. (Erin O. Smith/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) – Groups who claim Georgia’s elections procedures are fundamentally flawed and prevent minorities from voting may proceed with their lawsuit, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Filed in February, the lawsuit claims Georgia’s elections have “serious and unconstitutional flaws,” taking particular aim at the state’s process for purging its voting rolls, its “exact match” voter ID law, the closing of polling places and its use of outdated voting machines.

One of the groups bringing the suit is Fair Fight Action, which former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams founded after she lost to Brian Kemp in the 2018 election. Abrams refused to concede the election, claiming widespread voter suppression cost her the contest to the Republican. 

The state officials named as defendants in the suit asked a federal judge to toss the challenge, in part saying the group did not have standing to bring the claims and had not shown the facts necessary to support them.   

In an 85-page opinion issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones mostly rejected the officials’ arguments, saying the groups had shown enough to move the case forward. Evaluating the claims at this early stage in the way most favorable to the groups, Jones wrote the claims are “plausible on their face.”

“Plaintiffs’ amended complaint contains examples of how each challenged piece of conduct (enforcing the ‘use it or lose it’ statute, enforcing the exact match policy, failure to secure voter registration data, failure to secure voting machines, promoting poll closures, maintaining inaccurate voter rolls, failing to provide adequate resources, and failing to properly train election officials on provisional and absentee ballots) caused harm by denying voters their right to vote and, therefore, impacting the plaintiff-organizations’ missions,” Jones wrote.

Jones first found the groups have standing, a key legal threshold any party that brings a lawsuit must meet. Standing requires plaintiffs show they suffered an injury that was caused by the party they are suing and that the court can resolve.

Because the groups have sent money from other activities into the fight against Georgia’s elections procedures, Jones found they had met these conditions.

“Even though plaintiffs all have promoting voting and voter education as part of their missions, they each allege that they have had to, or will have to, redistribute resources from existing programs to ones specifically designed to address defendants’ challenged practices,” Jones wrote.

Jones did dismiss some of the groups’ claims against the state election board, saying it is immune under the 11th Amendment.

In a statement Thursday, Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo called the ruling a “significant victory for voting rights in Georgia and across the country.”

“We are pleased the court agreed to allow the case to move forward,” Groh-Wargo said. “Now, the secretary of state and State Election Board must defend their actions that have taken away Georgians’ constitutional right to vote. We look forward to immediately beginning the discovery phase and learning even more about the many ways Georgians have had their votes suppressed and we are hopeful that the case will result in meaningful reforms that improve our elections systems.”

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on ongoing litigation.

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