Georgia voting rights lawsuit that could impact 2022 elections wraps up

Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for Fair Fight Action, speaks outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta, GA., on Monday, April 11, 2022. Today marked the first day of the long awaited Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger trial. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

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Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for Fair Fight Action, speaks outside the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta, GA., on Monday, April 11, 2022. Today marked the first day of the long awaited Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger trial. (Photo/Jenn Finch)

Georgia’s most significant voting rights lawsuit in decades wrapped up on Thursday, setting the stage for a federal court ruling that could impact the state’s closely watched election in November.

Filed by Fair Fight Action, the suit challenged state voting processes it said disenfranchised voters in recent elections. The case was a bench trial, meaning that U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones will decide the outcome. His decision is expected sometime this summer.

The case was initially filed in 2019 in the aftermath of the 2018 elections. The trial lasted 21 days and involved more than 50 witnesses.

In closing arguments on Thursday, Fair Fight attorney Allegra Lawrence-Hardy said the state created a landscape that made voting more difficult, particularly for people of color and new American citizens.

“Georgians were facing confusing, overwhelming and, above all, unnecessary obstacles in casting their vote.” she said. “Discriminatory intent is the only reasonable explanation.”

But Josh Belinfante, defending Georgia’s secretary of state, said voting participation increased substantially in recent election cycles, particularly among African-Americans.

“When you hear about making it more difficult to vote, that’s just belied by the facts,” he said. “This is not a sign of disenfranchisement in the state of Georgia.”

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May 7, 2019 Atlanta - Josh Belinfante speaks during a hearing at Georgia Supreme Court Atlanta on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Belinfante argued for Georgia officials in a federal voting rights trial. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

May 7, 2019 Atlanta - Josh Belinfante speaks during a hearing at Georgia Supreme Court Atlanta on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Belinfante argued for Georgia officials in a federal voting rights trial. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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May 7, 2019 Atlanta - Josh Belinfante speaks during a hearing at Georgia Supreme Court Atlanta on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Belinfante argued for Georgia officials in a federal voting rights trial. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The lawsuit was scaled back dramatically after Jones tossed out some of Fair Fight’s original claims. Fair Fight was left arguing that Georgia’s exact-match voter verification system, poll worker training on the cancellation of absentee allots and management of the state’s voter registration database violated the U.S. Constitution.

“The evidence in this case is overwhelming,” Lawrence-Hardy said.

But Belinfante said only seven of Fair Fight’s more than 50 witnesses were people who had been unable to vote, despite the group’s aggressive outreach to find individuals impacted by the state’s voting laws. All of them had tried to vote before the 2020 election.

“This is not a widespread problem,” he said.

He also argued that the state had already put in place things that Fair Fight sought, such as a check against a federal database to verify immigration status.

Lawrence-Hardy acknowledged the shift but said a federal court order was needed to hold the state accountable.

Fair Fight was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams in the aftermath of the 2018 election; she narrowly lost the race for governor to Republican Brian Kemp. She blamed the results, in part, on voter suppression. Kemp, then secretary of state, oversaw Georgia’s election.

Both attorneys said they were aware of the case’s significance in Georgia, a state with a long track record of disenfranchising voters of color.

“I feel the weight of history. I feel it for all of us at this moment,” Lawrence-Hardy said.

Belinfante also acknowledged the the case’s importance.

“Whenever allegations are made that bring the integrity of elections into question, it is a very serious matter in the state of Georgia,” he said.