Kurt Kastorf, one of Stacey Abrams' attorneys, and Lauren Groh-Wargo, Stacey Abrams' campaign manager, hold a press conference in front of the Richard Russell building after a hearing in Federal court on Nov. 13, 2018. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

New ruling on absentee, provisional ballots expected Wednesday

A federal judge said he hopes to decide by noon Wednesday whether he will order Georgia counties statewide to count absentee ballots cast, even if the voter failed to include their correct date of birth on the envelope.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones also will rule on whether people who tried to vote in a county where they were not registered and were given provisional ballots will have their votes counted.

The Secretary of State provided guidance to counties that said they could accept absentee ballots even if the birth date was incorrect, but only Gwinnett County is required to do so after a different federal judge’s ruling on Tuesday.

Jones said he worried that without a new court order there could inconsistency across the state on which absentee ballots are counted.

“Why should people in Gwinnett County get theirs counted and people in 158 other counties not get theirs counted?” Jones said.

The Georgia Democratic Party and Stacey Abrams’ attorneys argued in favor of both changes, saying there are potentially thousands of voters whose ballots have been thrown out needlessly. The lawsuit was filed late Sunday, but because of the Veterans Day holiday did not get a hearing until Tuesday afternoon.

The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued for Jones to order a one-day extension on the deadline for counties to certify election results to the Secretary of State. He said it didn’t make sense to ask counties to wait since the vast majority of them had already certified ballots. He also pointed out that a third federal judge had already asked counties to review provisional ballots and fix discrepancies even if their results were certified.

On the issue of provisional ballots from people who tried to vote in one county only to find out they were registered in another, Jones’ ruling may hinge on testimony from attorneys from the Republican Party of Georgia and Secretary of State’s office about whether such a change is practical under current Georgia law.

They pointed to an affidavit from Chris Harvey, the state’s elections chief, who said there is no way to verify on Election Day if someone had already cast a ballot in another county. An attorney for Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden said people should be required to cast ballots in the county where they are registered because Harvey’s affidavit said each county keeps its own list of voters and their status.

“If you buy what he is selling, you are opening up the door for double voting and voter fraud” if those provisional ballots are count, attorney William “Chip” Collins Jr. told Jones.

The total number of ballots thrown out because of the residency issue is unknown. Fulton County reported disqualifying nearly 1,000 provisional ballots because it found the voters lived in another county, according to the lawsuit.

Jones said he and his staff will be working into the night to read all of the files in the case plus related court decisions before writing his opinion on the remaining issues. 

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About the Author

Tia Mitchell
Tia Mitchell
Tia Mitchell covers DeKalb government.
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