Fair Fight takes credit for Georgia election reforms after losing lengthy court battle over voter purges
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced outside of the U.S. district courthouse in downtown Atlanta in May that his office was making U.S. citizenship checks a regular part of the state’s election process. The state won a lawsuit filed by the Fair Fight voting organization claiming that the state voting procedures discriminated against minorities. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder
Georgia’s top Republican officials are celebrating a federal court ruling they say further dispels the claims made by a voting rights organization founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that Georgia’s election system discriminates against Black voters and other minorities.
The decision could still be appealed and attorneys who led the lawsuit against the state said their efforts were not in vain after reforms to the process to remove voters from the rolls and the system that alerts Georgians to a change in poll locations.
“The election system in Georgia has changed because of the suit,” said Fair Fight Action attorney Allegra Lawrence-Hardy at a Monday press conference. “We know that Georgians who are preparing to exercise their right to vote in just a few short weeks are facing remaining insidious practices that have now been brought to light and been documented by the federal court and these practices can now be combated.”
In a 288-page decision, U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones rejected the argument made by Fair Fight Action, the voting rights organization founded by Abrams, that roadblocks in the state’s election process violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
When the trial began this spring, the lawsuit’s scope had been significantly scaled back from when it was originally filed in 2018, focusing instead on how Georgia checks citizenship status, absentee ballot cancellation and voter maintenance list accuracy.
“Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the Voting Rights Act,” Jones wrote in Friday’s ruling.
In 2018, Fair Fight Action engaged in a series of battles over voting rules against then-GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp as Abrams and Kemp sought to become the next governor. These fights have reached a fever pitch over the last several years, culminating in the state’s lengthy federal voting rights trial, a GOP-led rewrite of the state’s voting law following the 2020 presidential election, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have limited the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit’s lead plaintiffs also included Care in Action, a group that organizes domestic workers in Georgia, and hundreds of Georgia voters in a case that became the longest-running voting rights trial in the history of the 11th Circuit of U.S District Court as the plaintiffs presented more than 50 witnesses and hundreds of pages of documents. The state has spent $6 million defending the lawsuit, according to Attorney General Chris Carr.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the judge’s decision upholds his argument that the elections systems and procedures are accessible and secure.
“This is a win for all Georgia election officials who dedicate their lives to safe, secure and accessible elections,” Raffensperger said. “Stolen election and voter suppression claims by Stacey Abrams were nothing but poll-tested rhetoric not supported by facts and evidence.”
Fair Fight’s new executive director Cianti Stewart-Reid said that while the judge’s decision is disappointing, the pursuit has led the state to take meaningful steps to improve ballot access and eliminate obstacles voters face with voter registration.
One of the biggest changes came when in 2019 the state purchased new electronic voting equipment that included paper ballots. The state also ended a controversial practice of removing eligible Georgians off the active voter list if their application signature does not exactly match government records. Known as exact match, tens of thousands of voters were being deemed to not be citizens when their names deviated from government records, a practice that disproportionately impacted minorities.
Stewart-Reid said that claims made in the original lawsuit also assisted in keeping 22,000 Georgians eligible to vote after they were wrongly selected to be purged, ensured that better notification is given when polling locations are changed, as well as spurring improvements to the process of canceling absentee ballots.
“By fighting back on behalf of voters we have forced accountability of our elected officials even without judicial remedy,” she said. “The disappointing decision does not undermine the tireless work Fair Fight Action and (other plaintiffs) have undertaken and continue to undertake to support Georgia voters and mitigate the obstacles they face to make their voices heard at the ballot box.”
Fair Fight attorney Lawrence-Hardy said the state should not be celebrating the judge finding that Georgia’s election system poses significant barriers to voters. She said that the judge
only recommended what needed to be corrected because of recent U.S Supreme Court decisions that placed significant hurdles for the plaintiffs trying to prove voters of color were denied equal opportunity to participate in elections under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Georgia courts have been besieged by other voting rights lawsuits complaining about Georgia’s provisions for absentee ballots and other voting rules passed in the 2021 Republican election law overhaul.
“We are of course disappointed that the court did not conclude that the new policy was implemented,” Lawrence-Hardy said. “We’re just scratching our heads because we believe the evidence in support of that claim was very strong. But the court did find very clearly that Georgia’s history of racial discrimination is not simply resigned to the annals of history, but still exists today.”
Despite the setback, attorneys said they are still weighing their options regarding an appeal.
Lawrence-Hardy said that Raffensperger vowed to remove the date-of-birth requirement for absentee ballots but since that was dismissed from the suit, it has since been reinstated.
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