Judge sides with Democrats, Dougherty must accept late-arriving absentee ballots

Dougherty County must accept all absentee ballots received by today and cannot certify the results of the election until Tuesday, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands said that the Democratic Party of Georgia had successfully argued that a “confluence of extraordinary circumstances” prevented the county from meeting its obligations to provide mail-in ballots in a timely fashion.

The ruling is likely to affect a few dozen votes, although the exact number is unclear. The Secretary of State’s office had no immediate comment.

In his three-page order, Sands wrote that Dougherty elections officials did not disagree that some voters had been harmed by the late mailings, caused first by a court challenge from a candidate left off the ballot, then by a federal holiday and lastly by Hurricane Michael.

He said it would have been unfair to allow the county, which includes the city of Albany, to disregard votes that arrived late due to no fault of residents.

“The loss of a right to vote creates an irreparable harm,” the judge wrote said.

Dougherty elections officials now must count all absentee ballots post-marked by Tuesday and received by today, as long as everything else checks out. The county also is not allowed to certify its election results until Tuesday, which is the state-mandated deadline.

The Dougherty County Board of Elections had planned to certify election results today. Without the court order, only military or overseas residents’ absentee ballots received after Tuesday would have been counted.

Kemp’s campaign said the ruling would have no effect on the outcome of the gubernatorial race, and he has already claimed victory.

"Today's desperate ploy by the Abrams team to steal the election and undermine the will of the people fell short in Dougherty County,” Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said via email. “Roughly 50 absentee ballots that arrive by end of day today but were post-marked by Election Day will be counted. As we have said since election night, it is mathematically impossible for Stacey Abrams to force a run-off or a recount. This ruling doesn't change that reality.”