Judge denies bid to block Georgia voting law, including drop box limits

Ruling says proof is still lacking that provisions of the law “have a disparate impact on Black voters”

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that lawsuits have yet to prove that Georgia’s 2021 election law is racially discriminatory, a conclusion that leaves in place the law’s limitations on ballot drop boxes, voter ID and water handouts to voters in line.

The decision denies efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and several other plaintiffs to block the law while the case moves toward a trial.

“Plaintiffs have not shown, at least at this stage of the proceedings, that any of the provisions have a disparate impact on Black voters,” U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee wrote in his decision denying preliminary injunctions.

The election law, passed by the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly after Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, created many new regulations for absentee and early voting.

Boulee’s order leaves in place rules that restrict drop boxes to one per 100,000 active registered voters, require additional forms of ID for absentee voting, ban volunteers from distributing food and water to voters, prohibit counting most provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and shorten absentee ballot application deadlines.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the ruling validates the voting law, Senate Bill 202.

“The court confirmed what we’ve been saying all along,” Raffensperger said. “SB 202 strengthens election integrity while increasing the opportunity for Georgia voters to cast a ballot.”

The law expanded early voting primarily in rural, Republican-leaning counties by requiring every county to offer a second Saturday of early voting. About 60% of registered voters in Georgia already lived in counties that offered two Saturdays of early voting before the law was passed.

The plaintiffs in the case presented evidence that sought to show how regulations, especially on drop boxes, disproportionately harmed voting access for Black voters who used them more often than white voters in metro Atlanta.

Boulee, a Trump nominee, wrote in his ruling that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate “racially discriminatory motivation” as required by the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which require equal treatment and guarantee the right to vote for Black voters. He also ruled against Voting Rights Act claims.

Additional evidence will be presented to the court showing the discriminatory effects of the voting law, said Matt Fogelson, an attorney for Advancement Project, which is representing plaintiffs including Black clergy leaders and civil rights organizations.

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“We continue to believe these provisions disparately affect voters of color, particularly the drop box provisions,” Fogelson said. “It’s hard not to see that the numbers of drop boxes in the metro Atlanta area in particular were severely reduced, and that had a significant impact on the communities in those areas.”

Boulee has previously granted other requests for preliminary injunctions.

In August, Boulee blocked criminal penalties for violations of the ban on distributing food and drinks to voters within 25 feet of any voter standing in line, though he upheld the limitation on refreshments within 150 feet of the outer edge of any polling place.

He also prohibited counties from rejecting ballots of voters who didn’t write their correct date of birth on absentee ballot envelopes.

In addition, Boulee struck down the law’s broad ban on photographing ballots in August 2021, finding that broad restrictions violate the First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections. It remains illegal to photograph completed ballots in polling places while voting is underway.

The case could go to trial in 2024, but no trial date has been set.