Abrams-backed election trial goes to trial in Georgia

When she ended her first run for governor of Georgia in 2018, Stacey Abrams announced her intention to sue the way the state’s elections were handled. More than three years later, as she makes another run to the Governor’s mansion, the lawsuit is about to go to trial.

Filed in November 2018 by Abrams’ organization Fair Fight Action, the lawsuit alleged that state officials “grossly mishandled” the election, disenfranchising some citizens, particularly low-income people and people of color, of their right to vote. a sweeping overhaul of the state’s elections, but its scope was narrowed significantly after the state made changes that addressed some allegations and others were dismissed by the court. The trial is scheduled to begin Monday.

Even if U.S. District Judge Steve Jones sides with the plaintiffs, it’s unclear whether it will affect this year’s election. Jones and other federal judges have been reluctant to order last-minute changes, noting that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said federal judges should not change the rules “on the eve of an election.”

In the months leading up to the 2018 election, Abrams, a Democrat, accused her Republican gubernatorial opponent, then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp, of using his position as Georgia’s Chief Electoral Officer to promote the removal of voters, an allegation Kemp vehemently denied. .

In the more than three years since this fierce contest captured national attention, attention to Georgia’s elections has only intensified. The problems in the 2020 primary drew heavy criticism. Later that year, former President Donald Trump hurled insults at state officials who refused to overturn his general election loss in the state. And the nation watched closely in January 2021 as a pair of Democrats ousted the state’s two incumbent Republican U.S. senators.

Many GOP-led state legislatures passed election bills last year after Trump fueled false claims that widespread fraud led to his defeat in 2020. The Georgia bill, which Kemp enacted a year ago, was one of the broadest. Among other things, the state measure shrunk the window for requesting a mail-in ballot, stripped the Secretary of State of power, and dramatically reduced the use of mail-in ballot boxes in populous, Democratic counties across the country. Atlanta subway. Voting rights groups and the US Department of Justice quickly sued; these lawsuits are ongoing.

Georgia Republicans this year passed legislation allowing the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate election wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Abrams, a state lawmaker who was little known outside of Georgia when she ran four years ago, has become a household name and star in the Democratic Party. The only Democrat to run for governor, she will face Kemp again in November if he fends off a lead challenge from former U.S. Senator David Perdue.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger accused Abrams and his allies of trying to undermine the integrity of Georgia’s election.

“Her 3-year ‘stolen election’ campaign was nothing more than a political stunt to keep her in the national spotlight, and it’s a disservice to Georgian voters,” he said. in an emailed statement.

Fair Fight says it works to promote suffrage and support progressive candidates across the country, and its PAC has raised more than $100 million since its founding. He filed the lawsuit with Care in Action, a nonprofit organization that advocates for domestic workers. Several churches have also joined as plaintiffs.

Fair Fight collected statements from people who said they had problems voting. The lawsuit cited several alleged problems, including the purge of eligible voters from voter rolls under a “use it or lose it” policy; the state’s so-called exact-match voter registration rules; an insufficient number of voting machines in certain constituencies; and a lack of sufficient training for election officials. He asked a federal judge to find that Georgia’s election processes violated the US Constitution and federal law.

“Since the beginning of this trial, we have highlighted the real voters and their challenges because we believe this is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate the obstacles in Georgia’s electoral system,” the director said. Fair Fight executive Cianti Stewart-Reid in an emailed statement. She added that voters across the state will testify at trial about the obstacles they face while trying to vote.

Some of the alleged problems have been resolved by changes to state law. For example, a 2019 law called for the replacement of outdated state voting machines. The new system was implemented statewide in 2020.

In February 2021, Jones dismissed parts of the lawsuit, saying some allegations were no longer relevant due to changes in state law or lack of standing by plaintiffs. Among them were some of the claims about voting machines and election technology, as well as voter roll security and polling station issues. The following month, Jones dismissed allegations targeting the “use it or lose it” policy and some allegations of inadequate training of poll workers. He also rejected some claims relating to provisional and mail-in ballots.

The remaining issues for the lawsuit relate to the “exact match” policy, the statewide voter registration list and the in-person cancellation of mail-in ballots. The plaintiffs allege that the Georgian Secretary of State and members of the state’s Election Commission are “denying and restricting Georgians’ right to vote” in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the US Constitution.

As part of the “exact match” policy, voter registration application information is checked against information held by the State Department of Driving Services or the Federal Social Security Administration . If there is a discrepancy, the potential voter must show identification to county officials before they can cast a regular ballot.

The plaintiffs claim that data entry errors or differences as minor as a missing hyphen or apostrophe can trigger a mismatch and that naturalized citizens can also be incorrectly reported as non-citizens if the records are out of date. These issues disproportionately affect people of color and may depend on where a person lives, as counties do things differently, the plaintiffs say.

The statewide voter registration database is “riddled with errors,” the plaintiffs say, resulting in the erroneous deletion of eligible voter registration or incorrect critical information. It can prevent eligible voters from being able to vote or force them to overcome undue burdens to do so, the plaintiffs say.

The plaintiffs also claim that election officials are not trained enough to cancel a mail-in ballot if someone chooses to vote in person instead, which can result in voters being turned down or being forced to vote tentatively.

State attorneys argue that the claims in the lawsuit “are not supported by evidence.” The number, geographic extent and severity of the alleged problems faced by voters identified by the plaintiffs “do not reach a level sufficient to demonstrate an unconstitutional burden on the vote in Georgia,” the state’s attorneys wrote in a file. Moreover, they argue, the alleged issues cited are not the responsibility of the state officials named in the lawsuit.

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