ATLANTA — Before two runoff elections next week, a federal court declined to prohibit some contested portions of Georgia’s new election law, but he didn’t rule out the potential of subsequent elections.
Election integrity advocates had petitioned U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee to stop the state from enforcing portions of the new legislation dealing with election observation and a new deadline for seeking absentee votes. One of eight federal lawsuits contesting the new legislation prompted their request.
Democrats and others have criticised the Republican-backed change of election laws approved this year, claiming that it adds needless barriers to voting, particularly for people of colour. The majority of the cases, including one filed last month by the United States Department of Justice, aims to overturn aspects of the legislation that critics believe jeopardise voting rights.
The focused request that resulted in Wednesday’s decision didn’t focus on the law’s most often criticised portions. The rules that have been challenged primarily deal with monitoring or photographing aspects of the electoral process.
According to the activists, who are led by the Coalition for Good Governance, the disputed portions of the law criminalise ordinary election observation activities and might frighten voters, election observers, and members of the news media. They contend that a tighter absentee vote request deadline makes requesting an absentee ballot for a runoff nearly impossible.
The state’s lawyers contended that the requirements enhance existing safeguards and are important for election integrity.
Two state House districts had special elections on June 15, and runoff votes are scheduled for Tuesday. Making adjustments now may risk “disrupting the administration of a current election,” according to Boulee’s judgement.
The Coalition for Good Governance’s executive director, Marilyn Marks, expressed sadness but expressed gratitude that Boulee’s ruling was restricted to the July runoffs.
“We are concerned about the voter confusion that will undoubtedly arise as a result of these little-known fast rule changes,” she added.
“This is simply another in a long series of frivolous lawsuits” against the state’s election legislation, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said, adding, “We will continue to confront them and beat them in court.”
The challenged provisions prohibit observers from: intentionally watching a voter vote; reporting anything they see during absentee ballot processing to anyone other than an election official; estimating or tallying the number of absentee ballots cast or any votes cast, and photographing the touchscreen of a voting machine.
The final disputed clause establishes an 11-day deadline for absentee ballot applications prior to an election.
All eight cases contesting the state’s new statute are being heard by Boulee. Last Monday, he conducted a hearing on the specific motion in question, because the activists had requested an emergency interim judgement on certain portions of the statute. In the other lawsuits, no comparable calls for quick action have been made.
In his order, Boulee stated that the timing, in this case, was problematic. He pointed out that the bill was enacted in late March, and the motion to overturn these provisions was made the day before the House special elections.
The legislation is currently in place, and not enforcing it would “change the law in the ninth inning,” he wrote. However, he stated that he will await judgement on whether or not it is appropriate to take actions to prevent any of the disputed sections of the law from being implemented in future elections.