Judge rules against Stacey Abrams group in voting rights lawsuit

ATLANTA — A federal judge ruled Friday that electoral practices in Georgia that are being challenged by a group associated with Democrat Stacey Abrams do not violate voters’ constitutional rights.

“While Georgia’s electoral system is not perfect, the practices being challenged violate neither the Constitution nor the VRA,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in Atlanta, referring to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He laid out his reasoning in an order of 288 pages.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2018, just weeks after Abrams narrowly lost the governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp. During that contest, Abrams had accused Kemp, then Secretary of State, of using his position as the state’s top election official to promote voter suppression. Kemp vehemently denied the allegations.

Kemp welcomed the ruling on Friday, calling it a loss for Abrams.

“Judge Jones’ ruling reveals this legal effort for what it really is: a tool used by a politician who hopes to falsely arm the justice system to achieve her own political goals,” Kemp said in a statement issued by his campaign. was emailed.

Representatives from Fair Fight and Abrams did not immediately comment on the ruling.

The trial began in mid-April, while the Georgia primaries were underway. Those matches set the stage for a rematch between Kemp and Abrams, who captured their parties’ governor nominations for the November general election.

Nearly five dozen witnesses were called over the course of 21 trial days spanning more than two months. It was a trial, meaning there was no jury and the verdict was up to Jones alone.

Abrams’ Fair Fight Action organization has filed the lawsuit along with Care in Action, a non-profit organization that advocates for domestic workers. Several churches later joined as plaintiffs. When originally submitted, it was extremely broad and called for a major overhaul of Georgia’s electoral system. By the time it went to trial, its scope was significantly limited as some allegations were resolved by changes in state law and others were dismissed by the court.

“This is a voting trial that resulted in wins and losses for all parties over the course of the trial and culminated in what is believed to be the longest voting trial in the history of the Northern District of Georgia,” Jones wrote. .

The issues that remained, and which were discussed extensively during the trial, were related to the “exact match” policy, the nationwide voter registration list, and the in-person ballot cancellation process. Fair Fight argued that the negative effects of these policies are disproportionately felt by people of color and new citizens and amount to violations of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Officials in Georgia have created a landscape where it’s “harder to register, harder to stay registered, and ultimately harder to vote,” Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for Fair Fight and the other plaintiffs, said during her closing statement. June. The barriers to voting are not caused by unavoidable human error, but are the result of “choices designed to prevent certain people from voting,” she said.

She reminded the judge of the testimony at the trial of voters who had difficulty registering or casting their vote, voters who shared their stories because they understood how important it was for the court to understand what they were dealing with.

Josh Belinfante, a lawyer for state election officials, said Georgia’s elections are constitutional and do not violate the Voting Rights Act, and that the allegations were a “very serious matter”. Georgia’s automatic voter registration policy and the significant recent increase in African American voter registration are not signs of a voter suppression state, he argued.

While Fair Fight collected stories from more than 3,000 voters, they found very few people unable to vote and none during the 2020 election, Belinfante noted. Instead, he said, the evidence showed that in many cases, problems were resolved quickly after contacting state officials.

Fair Fight’s goal was to get Democrats elected and make Georgia a blue state, and the organization used a false voter suppression narrative to motivate people to stand up for its cause, Belinfante said.

“You have to decide whether the case matches the rhetoric,” Belinfante told Jones in his closing argument. “The answer is no.”

Prosecutors argued that state officials are responsible for educating provincial election officials on the process of canceling ballots in the absence. They claimed that the education was inadequate and that some of the training materials were inaccurate, causing significant problems for voters who attempted to vote in person after asking for a ballot paper.

The plaintiffs also disputed two aspects of the state’s “exact match” policy for voter registration applications. Plaintiffs say problems arise for voters if the information on their applications does not exactly match that in the driver’s license or Social Security databases or if the information of new US citizens is not updated in the driver’s license database.

Finally, prosecutors said state officials mismanaged the voter registration database. They cited alleged problems with three list-keeping processes: the cancellation of registration if a person has been convicted of a crime, the merging of records believed to be duplicates, and the cancellation of voters believed to be dead. .

Jones noted that although the prosecutors called witnesses who testified about the struggle to cast their votes because of the practices in question, most were ultimately able to vote.

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