Georgia voter intimidation trial begins after 250K registrations challenged

Lawsuit seeks to ban True the Vote from Georgia
Josh Weeks waits in line with son, Noah, 4 as early voters hit the polls Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 at the Joan P. Garner Library in Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Josh Weeks waits in line with son, Noah, 4 as early voters hit the polls Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 at the Joan P. Garner Library in Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

GAINESVILLE — A federal trial opened Thursday with allegations that the conservative group True the Vote intimidated Georgia voters through 250,000 unverified challenges to their eligibility before runoffs that decided control of the U.S. Senate in early 2021.

True the Vote countered that it didn’t threaten anyone when it followed a Georgia law that allows citizens to question whether a voter still lives where they’re registered.

The lawsuit filed by Fair Fight asks a judge to banish Texas-based True the Vote from operating in Georgia and from disputing voter eligibility in the future. Fair Fight, which was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, contends that True the Vote violated the Voting Rights Act’s protections against voter intimidation.

Voter challenges targeted many legitimate voters who were “forced to jump through hoops,” leave the line to vote and in some cases wait for hours, Uzoma Nkwonta, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in his opening statement.

“The challenge list from True the Vote was thrown together and haphazard, and the result was an unmitigated disaster,” Nkwonta told U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in a Gainesville courtroom. “Their only offense was that they dared to vote.”

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

But True the Vote, the force behind the debunked conspiracy movie “2000 Mules,” argued that its voter challenges were “a responsible middle path” between wild accusations and a government that was unable to verify voters’ authenticity in the weeks before the runoffs. Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the runoffs, tipping control of the U.S. Senate.

“Many people were not living where they were registered to vote,” said Cameron Powell, an attorney for True the Vote. “Everything is better when people vote in the right place.”

Ultimately, county election boards rejected the vast majority of the voter challenges, which relied on huge spreadsheets that listed voters who had submitted change-of-address forms with the U.S. Postal Service.

The voter challenges harmed those who wanted their mail forwarded but remained Georgia voters with full voting rights, including members of the military, students and relocated workers, Nkwonta said.

After the Senate runoffs, the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly expanded the state’s voter challenge law, making it explicit that anyone could contest the eligibility of an unlimited number of voter registrations.

The new law came after Republican President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and repeatedly claimed there was rampant fraud in Georgia and other states that he didn’t win. Multiple recounts and investigations confirmed Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Under the new law, conservative activists have filed over 100,000 more voter challenges, primarily in Atlanta-area counties with large numbers of Democratic voters.

The legality of Georgia’s voter challenge laws isn’t being questioned in Fair Fight’s lawsuit. Instead, Fair Fight is arguing that True the Vote and its allies used the law in a reckless way that intimidated voters.

The lawsuit also accuses True the Vote of offering “bounty” money to support voter challengers and recruiting Navy SEALs to monitor polling places.

True the Vote’s attorneys said the group never contacted voters when it filed challenges to their eligibility with county election boards. They said voters couldn’t have been intimidated by True the Vote if the group followed state law and eligible voters were able to cast their ballots.

Witnesses in the trial, which is expected to last one or two weeks, could include True the Vote founder Catherine Engelbrecht, legitimate voters who had to fight eligibility challenges, and Georgia residents who filed the challenges against them.

Jones, who was nominated to the court by Democratic President Barack Obama, will likely rule on the case in the weeks after the trial concludes.

Related

Credit: Chris Day

Voter vs. voter: Georgia conservatives target thousands for cancellation
Using a new power bestowed by the state’s voting law. a determined group of Republicans is asking local election boards...

About the Author