Judge Briskly Tosses Out GOP Georgia Ballot Challenge Hours After It Was Lodged

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
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December 18, 2020 6:43 p.m.

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Republican group including committees for Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) and David Perdue (R-GA) and the state party seeking to lay the groundwork to throw out certain ballots, capping off a dismal few days for GOP legal challenges in the state.

The plaintiffs were asking that ballots cast by voters who registered after the November election be segregated from the rest, to allow for investigations into whether those voters had already cast a vote in another state’s Senate race during the general election. That, they argued, would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Judge Lisa Wood of the Southern District of Georgia, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that the plaintiffs didn’t have the standing needed to bring the challenge in the first place. But even if they did, she added, she wouldn’t grant their emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction anyway.

“There’s a lot of room for confusion and it really illustrates why there are the fundamental rules peppering the case law that judges shouldn’t jump into ongoing elections and change the rules,” she said in her concluding remarks.

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She also cited the “risk of suppressing other voters” and the “risk of confusion,” adding that she’s “not entirely clear why plaintiffs waited until last night to bring forth these issues, but I’m concerned on a number levels what it would mean at this point to switch course.”

She put the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, George Meros, a partner at the Tallahassee office of Shutts & Bowen LLP, on the hot seat as she prodded for how, even if she agreed to silo the ballots, they would prove that a new Georgia registrant specifically had filled out the bubble for a senatorial race when that voter cast a ballot in another state during the general election.

“Wouldn’t we have to rip open that ballot and look at that private vote to prove that?” Wood asked, adding later that “you can’t just come in here and say we think this might have happened.”

Meros did not immediately respond to TPM’s question about if the plaintiffs intend to appeal the decision.

Russ Willard, assistant state attorney general and the lead attorney for the defense, opened his time with some sharp jabs at the plaintiffs. He mocked the many election-related lawsuits in the many different Georgia courts Republicans have lodged “as they continue their quest to find a judge who will rule in their favor.”

Republicans have filed a flurry of eleventh-hour challenges to the election system, many of which met their demise this week. Early in-person voting in Georgia started on Monday and hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have already been returned.

On Thursday, two different federal judges shot down two lawsuits — one brought by this same group of Republicans, and one by the Twelfth Congressional District Republican Committee — going after signature matching procedures and drop box usage, respectively.

“We are not even on the eve of an election,” quipped the judge on the latter case. “We are, as it relates to this particular election, closing in on halftime.”

The rejections have followed a similar pattern, with all three judges finding that the defendants lacked standing and being loath to get involved when so many votes have already been cast.

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