Lawsuit over Georgia voting problems survives challenge

Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ campaign manager, speaks to members of the press outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. A federal lawsuit backed by Abrams will attempt to overhaul the state’s elections, alleging “gross mismanagement” after Georgians suffered long lines, uncounted ballots and purged registrations during this month’s vote. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A federal judge ruled Thursday that a lawsuit can move forward that alleges far-reaching voting problems last year during Georgia's heated election for governor.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones rejected Georgia election officials' motion to dismiss the lawsuit, filed by allies of Democrat Stacey Abrams in the days after she lost November's election to Republican Brian Kemp.

The lawsuit is seeking court intervention to stop voter registration purgesabsentee ballot cancellationsprecinct closures and potential voting machine tampering. The lawsuit alleges racial minorities were especially disenfranchised.

“This ruling is a significant victory for voting rights in Georgia and across the country,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We are hopeful that the case will result in meaningful reforms that improve our elections system.”

>> Related: Read the complete judge's decision

Jones discarded arguments from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's attorneys that new election laws solved the problems.

The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill this year to replace the state's voting machines, extend the time before registrations are canceled and limit precinct closures.

But the plaintiffs argued in court last month that the legislation fell far short of correcting obstacles to voting.

Jones wrote in his 84-page ruling that the bill doesn't address claims that poll workers were inadequately trained on ballot handling, registrations of inactive voters were inappropriately canceled, and registrations of voters with discrepancies were stalled under the state's "exact match" policy.

Raffensperger didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday.

The plaintiffs also said Kemp, who was secretary of state during last year's election, failed to safeguard the election and train poll workers.

“If you show up to vote on Election Day, you should have an assurance that your vote is counted,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, a Democrat from Atlanta and deputy executive director for Care In Action, a plaintiff that represents domestic workers. “We could be paving the way to have an unprecedented opportunity to expand voting rights for Georgians for many years to come.”

As the lawsuit moves forward, the plaintiffs plan to expose “the many ways Georgians have had their votes suppressed,” Groh-Wargo said.

A separate lawsuit over the state's electronic voting machines is also advancing through the federal court system.

In that case, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg this month rejected a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges that the state's voting machines are unsafe and should be replaced with hand-marked paper ballots.

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