For The Record

Federal judge declines to halt parts of Georgia’s new election law – for now

By: - July 7, 2021 3:14 pm

U.S. District Court Judge J.P. Boulee denied Wednesday an injunction to invalidate absentee deadline and election observation rules for a pair of July 13 runoffs. Boulee said he will still consider the provisions for future elections. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder (file photo)

A federal judge Wednesday denied a push to stop the enforcement of some new Georgia election rules for Tuesday’s two state House runoffs but is leaving open the possibility he could block parts of the law from taking effect in future elections.

In Wednesday’s order, U.S. District Court Judge J.P. Boulee said he didn’t want to make “ninth inning” changes governing absentee ballot request deadlines and elections observation with early voting underway for the special election runoffs

Boulee wrote in his initial order he is still considering the merits of the arguments in the Coalition for Good Governance’s lawsuit against the state officials, which could hold ramifications for this fall’s municipal elections when many more Georgians will cast ballots.

“Plaintiffs’ response that state defendants are ill-prepared to administer the new rules does not change the fact that election administrators have prepared to implement the challenged rules, have implemented them at least to some extent and now would have to grapple with a different set of rules in the middle of the election,” Boulee wrote in his order.

“The Court reserves judgment regarding the propriety of relief as to future elections and will issue a separate order on this question at a later date,” he added.

The Coalition’s lawsuit argues that Georgia voters will be shortchanged by the new law’s shortening of the deadline to request absentee ballots by a week, cutting off access 11 days before an election. That new rule took effect on July 1.

The lawsuit also claims the state is violating the rights of the media, election monitors, and members of the public with restrictions on routine observation at polling places and places where votes are counted.  

The lawsuit is one of eight challenging Georgia’s Senate Bill 202, a sweeping election measure that Republican lawmakers pushed through at the end of this year’s legislative session. 

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, one of the defendants in the coalition’s suit, said following Boulee’s order that he remains confident that the outcome will favor the state. 

“This is just another in the line of frivolous lawsuits against Georgia’s election law based on misinformation and lies,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

Boulee’s ruling Wednesday means election officials will move ahead as planned using the new election rules to process ballots cast in the Cobb County House district vacated by Republican Rep. Bert Reeves, who resigned after accepting a position at Georgia Tech. 

In that race, Republican Devan Seabaugh will battle Democrat Priscilla Smith.

In the other House runoff, two Republicans – Leesa Hagan and Wally Sapp – are vying to fill the south Georgia seat vacated by state Rep. Greg Morris, who now serves on the State Transportation Board.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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