Judge: Fulton doesn’t have to hold hearings that could purge 14K voters

JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled that the county’s elections board does not have to hold hearings that could have removed more than 14,000 registered voters from county rolls.

The ruling shields thousands of voters from the risk of being purged and comes about a month before the Nov. 3 presidential election, which is expected to bring record turnout and focus heavily on election integrity.

Two Fulton citizens have been trying to force the county’s elections board to hold the hearings since early July. Feeling left with no options, they asked a court to make the board hold the hearings. Judge Jane Barwick dismissed that request Monday.

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The attorney for the two men, Ray Smith, told the judge he has five bankers boxes of affidavits saying the people are no longer registered to vote at their previous addresses. Smith said they want to ensure an accurate election.

“We’re not trying to take anyone’s voting rights away, we’re trying to clear up the voter roll so on Nov. 3 we can have a legitimate vote," Smith said.

Barwick’s ruling allowed the petitioners and Smith to re-file the litigation. Smith did not respond to a message left for him following the mostly virtual hearing.

David Lowman, who represented the county, said federal law prohibits Fulton officials from removing voters from the rolls so close to a federal election, making the hearings futile. Smith disagreed.

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Even if Smith and the petitioners had gotten their way, Lowman said it would have been difficult to notify more than 14,000 people and then hold days of hearings during a pandemic.

Many organizations backed the county’s position: Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the New Georgia Project.

John Powers, with the Lawyers' Committee, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the hearing he is pleased voters will be saved from dealing with the possibility of purges.

“It risks sowing chaos and confusing and disenfranchising eligible voters,” he said.

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