Georgia election lawsuit backed by Abrams goes to trial

ATLANTA (AP) — An attorney representing critics of Georgia’s election system said state officials “have created many barriers” to voting through their policies and practices. A state lawyer said critics were trying to prove the state was a “democracy failure”, but they lacked evidence to prove it.

The statements came on Monday as a trial was underway in a federal trial that initially called for sweeping changes to Georgia’s election system. The scope of the trial was significantly reduced when some of the charges were addressed by changes in state law and others were dismissed by the court. The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by Fair Fight Action, an organization founded by voting rights activist and Democratic nominee for Georgia Governor Stacey Abrams, just weeks after Abrams lost her first bid for governor.

The bench trial – which means there is no jury – is presided over by US District Judge Steve Jones and is expected to last four or five weeks. Jones has said he does not expect the state to rule before the May 24 primary.

During her inaugural statement, Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, an attorney for Fair Fight and other plaintiffs, evokes the image of U.S. Representative John Lewis marching on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, 1965, to fight for voting rights . Lawrence-Hardy said the congressman, who died in July 2020, had planned to be the plaintiff’s first witness at trial.

“Voting is also a bridge. This is the most basic path to democracy,” she said. Because of the actions of state election officials, she said, “eligible voters in Georgia face roadblock after roadblock while trying to go that route.”

He said the secretary of state and state election boards have made it difficult for Georgians to register to vote, stay registered, and count votes.

When Abrams ended his 2018 bid to become governor, he said that under the oversight of his victorious Republican rival, former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, “democracy failed in Georgia.” It’s a hypothesis that Fair Fight and its allies are trying to prove without success, said state attorney Josh Belinfante.

Bellinfant said state officials take very seriously any claim to suffrage or the burden on the right to vote. The plaintiffs miss proving their hypothesis partly because they ignore the “hard work of everyday Georgians,” election workers who work hard in difficult conditions and “just want to get it right,” he said. .

The lawsuit initially said state election officials “grossly mismanaged” the 2018 election in a way that deprived some citizens, especially low-income people and people of color. The remaining issues up for trial relate to the state’s “exact match” policy, statewide voter registration lists and in-person cancellation of absentee ballots. Plaintiffs allege violations of the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Under an “exact match” policy, information on voter registration applications is checked against information held by the state’s Department of Driver Services. Lawrence-Hardy said the “flawed matching methods” used by the state inevitably produce incorrect results. Critics of “exact matching” have long stated that data entry errors or differences as minor as a missing hyphen can trigger a non-match and that even natural citizens may be falsely flagged when the record is out of date. can be done. Lawrence-Hardy said the problems disproportionately affect people of color, naturalized citizens, and residents of some counties.

Evidence shows that 98% of Georgians have no problem with the policy and the other 2% can vote after showing a photo ID, which every voter is required to do, Belinfant said. He added that the “exact match” policy has also become “less stringent” as a result of litigation and the 2019 law.

Lawrence-Hardy also alleged that the statewide voter registration database is full of errors, and that the state’s efforts to clean up the electoral rolls of ineligible voters often result in the registration of eligible voters being misplaced or important information incorrect. it occurs. Belinfante acknowledged some unfortunate mistakes, but said there was no evidence that the state deliberately deprives voters.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that counties have different procedures for canceling absentee ballots if a person chooses to vote in person instead, and subject some voters to unnecessary burdens. He said state officials are aware of these problems, due to which voters may be turned away or forced to cast provisional voting.

Belinfante said the 2019 law clarified the process for canceling an absentee ballot at a polling place and that the Polling Worker Manual has been updated.

Lawrence-Hardy told the judge that, during the trial, he would hear from people who experienced voting trouble, as well as from experts studying voting in Georgia.

Belinfante said judges would hear from a small number of people who were unable to vote in 2018 and even fewer who had problems in 2020. Election officials will testify about ongoing measures to ensure the integrity of the state’s voting system and improve the voter experience, he said. ,

Fair Fight filed suit with Care in Action, a nonprofit advocating for domestic workers. Several churches have also joined as plaintiffs.

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