Judge blocks residency challenges to 4,000 Georgia voters

A federal judge ordered local election officials in Georgia to allow voting by more than 4,000 people whose eligibility was being challenged ahead of next week´s runoff elections for the U.S. Senate.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner blocked election boards in Ben Hill County and Muscogee County, which includes Columbus, from forcing large numbers of voters to prove their residency before casting ballots in the runoffs.

The judge ruled that denying so many voters access to the ballot so close to an election would likely violate the National Voter Registration Act.

‘Defendants are enjoined from removing any challenged voters in Ben Hill and Muscogee Counties from the registration lists on the basis of National Change of Address data’, Gardner wrote in the order. 

The judge is the sister of Democratic activist Stacey Abrams, who lost a race for Georgia governor in 2018. 

Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both face runoff elections next Tuesday. If both lose to Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Democrats will take control of the Senate.

Nearly 2.1 million people have cast ballots in the U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia that will determine whether Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the fate of Biden’s agenda, according to state data published Thursday. 

The vast majority of those registrations being challenged came from Muscogee County, which, according to Politico, leaned heavily toward President-elect Joe Biden in November. 

Challenges against roughly 4,000 voters in Muscogee County and more than 150 voters in Ben Hill County were part of an effort by the Texas-based conservative group True The Vote to coordinate challenges statewide under a Georgia law that allows any registered voter to challenge the eligibility of any other voter within the same county.

The group said on Dec. 18 that it was bringing challenges in each of Georgia´s 159 counties against more than 364,000 voters whose residency was being questioned based on change of address data obtained from the U.S. Postal Service.

It´s up to local election boards to determine whether the challenges have merit. Several, including in Fulton and Cobb counties in metro Atlanta, have rejected them.

Because election officials in Muscogee and Ben Hill counties had determined the challenges had probable cause, anyone on the challenged list attempting to vote would have been required to prove their eligibility – as would anyone challenged who mailed an absentee ballot.

The judge´s order blocks the counties from impeding voting by anyone who was challenged, saying federal law prohibits ‘systemic’ removal of voters from the rolls within 90 days of an election.

Attorneys for the county election boards had asked Gardner to recuse herself in the case since she is the sister of Stacey Abrams, the founder of the voting rights group Fair Fight.

Abrams get-out-the-vote efforts were largely credited with helping Biden win the state. He was the first Democrat to carry Georgia since 1992. 

Gardner, an appointee of President Barack Obama, noted the recusal request in her ruling granting the restraining order and said she is declining to step aside.

‘The Court has reviewed the motion and finds no basis for recusal. An Order detailing the Court’s reasoning is forthcoming,’ the judge wrote.

If Republicans win one or both Senate seats in Georgia, they will retain a slim majority in the chamber and can block Biden’s legislative goals and judicial nominees.

If Democrats win both, the chamber will be split 50-50, giving the tie-breaking vote to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.


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