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Federal Judge OKs Lawsuit Demanding Sweeping Reforms of Georgia Elections

Judge Steve Jones, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Photo: John Disney/ALM

The lawsuit by Fair Fight Action and several churches sprang from the ashes of Democrat Stacy Abrams’ unsuccessful campaign for governor last year.
By R. Robin McDonald | May 30, 2019 at 06:45 PM

A federal voting rights lawsuit demanding sweeping reforms to Georgia’s current election system, and its obsolete voting machines, will go forward, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled Thursday.

In an 85-page order, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled Thursday that constitutional questions raised by the suit—filed by a nonprofit organization founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams after she lost the gubernatorial race to Republican Brian Kemp last year—were not resolved by legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year. Jones also rejected arguments by current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to dismiss the suit, which demands federal judicial oversight of future Georgia elections.

The constitutional issues raised by nonprofit organization Fair Fight Action, which rose from the ashes of Abrams’ unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, led five federal judges in Georgia to issue six restraining orders in similar but more limited lawsuits. All aimed to allow more votes to be tallied, even as ballots were being cast or counted during the 2018 election.

Jones said House Bill 316—which Kemp signed into law in April—still fails to address claims by Fair Fight Action and several churches who have joined in the litigation that the state’s voter list maintenance policies remain unconstitutional, are subject to manipulation for political benefit, and penalize infrequent voters who are “disproportionately people of color.”

Jones also rejected arguments by Raffensperger that the state’s decision to purchase new electronic voting machines resolves issues associated with the current obsolete machines, which are still in use, are vulnerable to hacking and, as such, could violate voters’ constitutional rights.

“While funds have been appropriated for the new voting machines, the current [electronic] voting machines are still in use and will likely remain in use through at least the next election and potentially longer,” Jones ruled. “Until such time when the current [electronic] voting machines are no longer in use and the new voting machines are implemented, [the] plaintiffs’ allegations that the current [electronic] voting machines are unreliable and insecure cannot be rendered moot.”

Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo, Abrams’ former campaign manager, called Jones’ 85- page order “a significant victory for voting rights in Georgia and across the country.”

“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 system,” she said.

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