Judge’s ruling focuses Georgia voting rights lawsuit on purges

January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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January 5, 2021 Atlanta: Voters lined up to cast ballots on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021 at the Park Tavern located at 500 10th St NE in Atlanta. Georgia’s long moment in the national spotlight culminated Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, when state voters cast their votes to determine which party would control the U.S. Senate. Georgia voters also voted to elect a member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy and utility rates and issues. The two most expensive Senate races in history saw more than $833 million been spent by the four campaigns and outside groups supporting them, blanketing the airwaves and stuffing mailboxes across the state. Much of that money has come from organizations with no direct connection to Georgia. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

A federal judge scaled down a 2018 lawsuit alleging broad problems with Georgia’s elections, ruling Tuesday that he will only consider allegations involving voter registration cancellations, inaccurate voter lists and election worker training.

The decision allows the case, filed by allies of Democrat Stacey Abrams in the wake of her 2018 loss in the race for governor, to move toward a trial.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones threw out claims about voting machines, voter list security, potential hacking vulnerabilities, polling place closures and inadequate resources. Those allegations were no longer relevant either because of changes in state law or the plaintiffs lacked standing, according to Jones’ 72-page ruling on the state’s motion for summary judgment.

The lawsuit will now focus on the legality of the state’s “use-it-or-lose-it” law, which cancels the registrations of voters who don’t participate in elections for several years.

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Jones also allowed the case to address Georgia’s “exact match” policy for registering voters, allegations of voters who were incorrectly told they weren’t registered, and inconsistent handling of absentee and provisional ballots.

“Despite their repeated attempts to evade responsibility and blame counties for their failures to protect the constitutional rights of Georgians, the secretary of state and State Election Board will be forced to defend their unlawful conduct on the merits,” said Lauran Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group that sued the state.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the lawsuit was flawed in similar ways as legal complaints about the 2020 presidential election. Judges repeatedly rejected lawsuits alleging fraud or inaccuracies in Democrat Joe Biden’s win over Republican Donald Trump.

“I appreciate Judge Jones’ ruling dismissing a number of significant claims and finding that this lawsuit suffers from some of the same issues that were fatal to the challenges to the 2020 elections. I look forward to his ruling on the merits of the remaining claims,” Raffensperger said.

The decision comes after a hearing last month where attorneys for Raffensperger argued the case was no longer relevant since the state purchased new voting machines, added paper ballots to the voting process, revised voter registration cancellation laws and changed absentee ballot rejection procedures.

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But Fair Fight told the judge that many Georgia voters, especially Black voters, continue to face obstacles to voting, as they did in 2018. Voters faced long lines in the primary election and dealt with lost or rejected absentee ballots. In addition, the secretary of state’s office canceled 287,000 registrations in 2019, many of them through the “use-it-or-lose-it” law.

Under the law, Georgia voters become “inactive” after five years in which they don’t participate in elections or make contact with election officials. Then their registrations are voided after they miss the next two general elections.

Fair Fight alleged the law targets voters who remain eligible and haven’t moved, saying they shouldn’t lose their ability to vote just because they chose to sit out several elections.

A trial in the case could be held later this year.

Ruling on voting rights lawsuit

A federal judge dismissed parts of a lawsuit alleging voting problems in Georgia on Tuesday but allowed the case to move forward on several claims.

Ongoing complaints

  • Voter registration cancellations based on “use-it-or-lose-it” law
  • “Exact match” policy for voter registration information to match government databases
  • Inaccurate voter lists
  • Inadequate election worker training

Dismissed claims

  • Polling place closures
  • Insecure voting technology
  • Absentee ballot rejections
  • Voter list security
  • Failure to provide adequate election resources