ATLANTA — A federal judge on Friday found that Georgia election practices challenged by a group affiliated with Democrat Stacey Abrams do not violate voters’ constitutional rights, filed nearly four years ago. Judgment in favor of the State on all remaining issues in the case.

“Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the Constitution nor the VRA,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in Atlanta, referring to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He detailed his reasoning in a 288-page order.

The lawsuit was filed in November 2018, just weeks after Abrams lost the governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp. Throughout the contest, Abrams accused Kemp, then Secretary of State, of using his position as the state’s top election official to suppress voters. Camp vehemently denied the allegations.

Kemp praised the decision Friday, calling it a loss for Abrams.

“Judge Jones’ decision exposes this legal effort for what it really is: a tool used by a politician to advance his political goals,” Camp said in a statement emailed through his campaign. hoping to wrongly weaponize the legal system.”

Representatives for FairFight and Abrams did not immediately comment on the decision.

The trial began in mid-April, when Georgia’s primary elections were underway. Those contests set the stage for a rematch between Camp and Abrams, who secured their parties’ gubernatorial nominations for the November general election.

About five dozen witnesses were called during the 21 trial days spanning more than two months. It was a bench trial, meaning there was no jury and the decision was up to Jones alone.

Abrams’ Fair Fight Action organization filed the lawsuit along with Care in Action, a nonprofit that advocates for domestic workers. Several churches later joined as plaintiffs. When it was originally filed, it was far-reaching and called for a significant change in Georgia’s electoral system. By the time his trial came to trial, the scope had been narrowed considerably as some of the allegations were resolved by changes in state law and others were dismissed by the courts.

“This is a voting rights case that resulted in wins and losses for all parties throughout the litigation and culminated in what was the longest voting rights bench trial in the history of the Northern District of Georgia. Jones wrote. .

Issues that remained and were discussed at length during the trial concerned the “exact match” policy, the statewide voter registration list, and the practice of in-person cancellation of absentee ballots. Fairfight alleged that the adverse effects of these policies were disproportionately felt by people of color and new citizens, and that they violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Georgia officials have created a scenario where it’s “harder to register, harder to stay registered and ultimately harder to vote,” Allegra Lawrence Hardy, an attorney for Fairfight and other plaintiffs, said during her closing arguments in late June. . Voting barriers are not caused by inevitable human error, he said, but are the result of “choices designed to prevent some people from voting.”

He reminded the judge during the trial of testimony from voters who had trouble registering or casting their ballots, voters who shared their stories because they understood how difficult it was for the court to understand. What matters is what they are facing.

Josh Bellinfante, a lawyer for state election officials, said Georgia’s elections are constitutional and do not violate the Voting Rights Act and that the allegations are a “very serious matter.” He argued that Georgia’s automatic voter registration policy and recent increases in African-American voter registration are not signs of a state suppressing voters.

While Fairfight collected stories from more than 3,000 voters, they found very few people who were unable to vote during the 2020 election and none at all, Bellinfante noted. Instead, he said, evidence shows that many cases are resolved quickly after contacting state officials.

Belenfont said Fair Fight’s goal was to elect Democrats and make Georgia a blue state, and the organization used a false narrative of voter suppression to encourage people to turn out for its cause.

“You have to decide whether the case matches the rhetoric,” Belenfante told Jones in his closing argument. “The answer is no.”

The plaintiffs argued that state officials have a responsibility to train county election officials on the process of canceling absentee ballots. They alleged that training was inadequate and some training materials were inaccurate, causing significant problems for voters who attempted to vote in person after requesting an absentee ballot.

Plaintiffs also challenged two aspects of the state’s “exact match” policy for voter registration applications. The plaintiffs say problems arise for voters if the information on their applications doesn’t exactly match information in driver’s license or Social Security databases or if the driver’s license database contains information on new U.S. citizens. Has not been updated.

Finally, the plaintiff said state officials mismanaged the voter registration database. They cited alleged problems with three list maintenance processes: cancellation of registration if a person is convicted of a crime, merging of records believed to be duplicates, and voter registration. Abolitionists who believe they are dead.

Jones noted that when plaintiffs called witnesses who testified about their struggles to cast their ballots as the issue was worked out, most were able to vote in the end.

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