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Voter Suppression Effort in Georgia

MARCH 2020

• Georgia: Two lawsuits have been filed in state court to require an election that Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger canceled for a state Supreme Court seat. Justice Keith Blackwell, who was appointed to his post by former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, announced last month that he intended to resign in mid-November, six weeks before his term ends, rather than seek re-election. However, by calling off the planned May 19 election, Raffensperger's move would give Republican Gov. Brian Kemp the chance to appoint a replacement for Blackwell, who wouldn't have to go before voters until 2022.

Democratic Rep. John Barrow and former GOP state Rep. Beth Beskin each filed their separate lawsuits after being denied the chance to run for Blackwell's seat, arguing that Raffensperger violated the state constitution's guarantee that voters can select their Supreme Court justices. They also noted that Blackwell hasn't even resigned yet, saying that Kemp can't make an appointment while the seat is still occupied. If plaintiffs prevail, it's unclear if this litigation will be resolved quickly enough to reinstate a May election, or whether it would have to be delayed.

Notably, this is now the second Supreme Court election that Raffensperger has canceled and that Barrow and Beskin had intended to run in. The first was for the seat of former Democratic-appointed Justice Robert Benham, who unexpectedly announced late last year that he would resign in early March. No suits were filed in that instance, so Kemp will get the chance to fill that seat. Once he does, eight of the court's nine justices will have been selected by Republican governors.

• Georgia: Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has settled a federal lawsuit brought by Democrats who were fighting Georgia's system of arbitrarily deciding which absentee ballots to reject over supposedly non-matching signatures, a process they've carried out without even notifying affected voters. Under the settlement, election officials must contact voters whose ballots are rejected within three days, or within one day if they are cast in the 11 days prior to an election, and give them a chance to fix the problem.

Absentee rejections were one of many issues that plagued the 2018 midterms, which were marred by voter suppression efforts by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who at the time was secretary of state. Statewide, 3% of absentee ballots were rejected, or more than 8,000 in total. But that rate varied widely by county: populous Democratic-leaning Gwinnett County in the Atlanta suburbs, for instance, had a rejection rate of more than 7%.

• Georgia: In a damning report laying bare Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's serious abuse of power, GOP state Attorney General Chris Carr's office announced there was no evidence that Democrats had hacked the state's voter registration system in the 2018 elections.

While serving as secretary of state, Kemp oversaw his own election for governor in 2018. Just days before the election, he leveled an incendiary charge that Democrats had improperly accessed the state's election infrastructure and placed his accusations prominently on the secretary of state's official website—where thousands of voters would see it when looking for voting information.

Of course, it was Kemp himself whose office had a history of election security failures, which included allegedly destroying evidence amid litigation regarding the exposure of six million sensitive voter records. Kemp appears to have made his hacking claim to misdirect blame for his incompetence, since he issued it just a day before ProPublica reported he had been warned about security vulnerabilities. Kemp's office subsequently worked to clandestinely fix some of the very security flaws that Kemp himself had refused to acknowledge even existed in the first place.

Kemp, who undertook many efforts to suppress black and Democratic voters through registration purges and other methods, had a clear-cut conflict of interest in overseeing his own election. There's no way, of course, to know whether his actions affected the outcome of the race. But by using his power and state resources to try to suppress voters in his own election, including his complete fabrication of serious charges of election interference against Democrats, Kemp's narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams should be viewed as tainted and lacking the legitimacy of a free and fair election.

• Georgia: A state court judge has rejected an emergency request to require Georgia to switch to regular paper ballots instead of using its new voting machines. Election security advocates with the Coalition for Good Governance filed a lawsuit on Monday arguing that the large screens on the new machines violate voters' privacy because they make their choices visible to potentially prying eyes, but the judge disagreed. The plaintiffs haven't said whether they will appeal but said that the "issue is far from over."

This same group has also been waging a federal lawsuit seeking to stop Georgia from implementing these new voting machines, which print a paper ballot that relies on a barcode that the plaintiffs say prevents voters from being able to verify that their choices have been accurately recorded. A federal district court previously blocked Georgia from continuing to use its old paperless voting machines, but the case remains ongoing in the plaintiffs' effort to stop the new barcode voting machines from being used.



• Georgia: A federal court has rejected a challenge from voting rights advocates who sought to restore roughly 100,000 registrations of voters who had been removed from the rolls by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger simply because they had not voted in recent elections. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs, led by Democrat Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight, had failed to prove the purge violated the Constitution. Plaintiffs say they are considering an appeal.

Meanwhile, Democrats who are challenging Georgia's notification procedures concerning absentee ballot rejection in a separate case have amended their suit to also challenge the state's process for rejecting ballot signatures themselves.

The suit had originally sought to bar the state the state from rejecting any absentee ballots without notifying voters and giving them a chance to correct problems, such as their signature not matching the one on file. The additional claim seeks to block the state from using its current procedures for rejecting signatures as non-matching, arguing that they're arbitrarily enforced.