GA Officials Ask Judge To Toss Abrams-Backed Suit Challenging Election System

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 06:  Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams addresses supporters at an election watch party on November 6, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Abrams and her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, are in a tight race that is too close to call.  A runoff for Georgia's governor is likely.  (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Jessica McGowan/Getty Images North America

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia election officials on Monday asked a judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by an organization backed by unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams that challenges the way the state’s elections are run.

Lawyers for recently sworn-in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is the state’s top elections official, and election board members said in a motion to dismiss that the lawsuit fails to bring valid claims. They also argue that state officials are not responsible for any of the harm alleged and are immune from such suits.

The lawsuit was filed by Fair Fight Action, a group associated with Abrams and staffed by some of her former campaign workers. In a speech ending her bid for governor 10 days after the November midterm election, Abrams promised a lawsuit against the state “for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 27, says mismanagement of the election resulted in some citizens, particularly low-income people and people of color, being deprived of their constitutional right to vote. It seeks major reforms and asks that Georgia be required to get a federal judge’s approval before enacting any voting rules to ensure that changes wouldn’t disenfranchise minorities.

“Their candidate having lost the election, Plaintiffs now seek to litigate the consequences of the 2018 election not in the elected branches of state government, but in this federal court,” the state lawyers wrote. “Put simply, Plaintiffs seek to enact their preferred policies not through state government or the legislature, but through the federal judiciary.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who beat Abrams in the November election, served as secretary of state until two days after the election when he stepped down after declaring himself governor-elect. Abrams regularly called Kemp “an architect of suppression” during the campaign, an allegation he vehemently denied.

Joining Fair Fight Action as a plaintiff in the lawsuit is Care in Action Georgia, the state chapter of a national nonprofit dedicated to fighting for the rights of domestic workers.

The state lawyers argue that the two organizations fail to allege any specific, concrete harm to themselves, meaning they lack standing to bring their claims. The organizations argued in the lawsuit that they have to spend additional resources educating voters because of alleged violations of law by election officials, but state lawyers argue that is something the organizations would already be doing, not an additional burden.

Alleged problems at the polls cited in the lawsuit would fall under the responsibility of county election officials, so state election officials are improperly named in the suit, state lawyers argue. Although the lawsuit says state officials failed in their responsibility to properly train county officials, it doesn’t identify any specific deficiencies or allege any intent or deliberate indifference, state lawyers wrote.

“Plaintiffs announced their lawsuit with great fanfare and have utilized its existence as a way to advance their organizational interests in the press,” state lawyers wrote.

“Now, however, the Complaint must survive judicial scrutiny. It cannot.”

Fair Fight CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo, who previously served as Abrams’ campaign manager, said there is no doubt the recent elections were mismanaged and tainted by voter suppression.

“With the motion to dismiss defendants filed today, the state continues to pretend they are not culpable of disenfranchisement,” she said in an emailed statement. “Our lawsuit will lay out compelling and irrefutable evidence of an interlocking system of voter suppression that has unfairly impacted election outcomes in our communities and that cannot be allowed to stand — and if the suit succeeds, Georgia elections will be closer to being fair for all Georgians.”

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