Judge Rules Against Forcing Georgia To Restore 200K Voters Before Runoff

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 14, 2020: On the first day of early voting for the January 5th US Senate runoff long lines of Georgia voters form on a drizzly and chilly morning at Ponce De Leone Library in Atlanta, Geor... ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 14, 2020: On the first day of early voting for the January 5th US Senate runoff long lines of Georgia voters form on a drizzly and chilly morning at Ponce De Leone Library in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday December 14, 2020. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
December 17, 2020 10:38 a.m.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Georgia does not have to restore nearly 200,000 voters to the rolls for the runoff, though he admitted that there may be “discrepancies” in records used to show that those voters had moved out of the state.

Advocacy groups including the Black Voters Matter Fund brought the lawsuit against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in early December.

Judge Steve Jones of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, an Obama appointee, found that the advocacy groups both lacked the standing necessary to sue, and that they failed to prove that the rolls were purged with a discriminatory aim.

“Plaintiffs have shown that Georgia’s list maintenance process may not be accurate in identifying voters who have actually moved,” he wrote. “But they have not shown, or even alleged, that the process is applied differently to any class of voters.”

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Much of the plaintiffs’ argument centered on a report from the Palast Investigative Fund which was provided to the ACLU. Investigators found evidence, after going name-by-name through a list of purged voters, of “large-scale disenfranchisement of legitimate voters,” particularly young ones and voters of color. 

“We found 198,351 Georgia voters who supposedly moved from their registration addresses who, in fact, have not moved at all, and therefore were wrongly purged, a 63.3% error rate,” the report read. 

The report pointed to Georgia’s methodology of checking if a voter had moved — a combination of returned mail, the National Change of Address Registry and the state’s “use-it-or-lose it process” (where a voter is removed if she misses two federal elections in a row and fails to return a confirmation postcard) — as flawed and inaccurate. 

In his ruling, Jones also found that the plaintiffs failed to show that voters who were wrongly purged were prevented from re-registering. 

“It is true that, because Georgia does not permit same-day registration, any voter whose registration was cancelled and who did not re-register will not be permitted to vote in the January 5, 2021 run-off election,” he wrote. “However, Plaintiffs have not shown that a single voter was prevented from re-registering before the deadline on December 7, 2020.”

He added that, to the contrary, testimony during the hearing showed that many of the wrongly purged voters re-registered thanks to outreach efforts. 

Jones ultimately concluded that adding nearly 200,000 voters back to the rolls less than a month before the runoff “poses a significant risk of confusion,” citing the possibility of double registrations. He added that it would be a burden to Raffensperger’s office, while they are already occupied with administering the runoff, for which early voting has begun. 

The court, Jones wrote, “strongly encourages the Parties to meet and determine the explanation, if any, for the alleged inaccuracies” in the purged voter list.

Raffensperger, who has come under heavy fire from nearly all the top Republicans in his state plus President Donald Trump for standing by Georgia’s presidential election, celebrated the ruling.

“This lawsuit from left-leaning groups — like the recent ones from the right — was based on conjecture by unqualified ‘experts’ drawn from sloppy analysis,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “This office abides by the law regardless of criticism and oversees fair and accurate elections open to all eligible voters — but only eligible Georgia voters.”

Read the ruling here:

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