Aug 4, 2022 - News

A guide to Georgia's election lawsuits

Illustration of a voting booth with a gavel printed on the side.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

As Election Day nears, more than a dozen battles are still raging in the courts over Georgia's voting system.

What's happening: The pending lawsuits are challenging various components of Georgia's electoral system, from its latest redistricting maps to the state's voting machines.

The bottom line: It's unlikely the litigation will majorly affect Georgia's election administration in time for November. Most have yet to go to trial.

Yes, but: A case challenging the structure of Georgia's Public Service Commission districts, Rose v. Raffensperger, just completed its trial, and the judge has promised a ruling by Aug. 12.

  • If Judge Steven Grimberg rules in the plaintiffs' favor (who argue the districts disenfranchise Black voters), that could invalidate the recent public service commission primary elections and even force a postponement of the November commission races.

Here's a breakdown of where things stand:

Fair Fight's 2018 lawsuit

Driving the news: The six-week trial for this case recently wrapped up, three and a half years after Stacey Abrams announced the challenge to the constitutionality of Georgia's voting system after her 2018 loss.

State of play: While the original complaint was very broad, a federal judge narrowed the issues at play to the state's citizenship verification process, the state's "exact match" policy, absentee ballot cancellation training for elections workers and the state's voter list accuracy.

Threat level: A ruling in Fair Fight's favor could have implications for November, but if the state appeals, effects could be postponed.

Of note: A separate lawsuit, Georgia Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda v. Raffensperger filed before the 2018 election, seeks to eliminate the state's longtime citizenship verification process altogether. Parties are awaiting a possible ruling from a federal judge.

SB 202: The 2021 election overhaul

1. In re: SB 202 consolidated many suits making similar arguments against the state's controversial Republican-led 2021 election law. The Department of Justice, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, Black Voters Matter Fund and GALEO are among the eight plaintiffs challenging various parts of the election policy overhaul.

  • The complaints allege voter disenfranchisement and disproportionate new burdens for voters of color and Democratic-leaning voters.

State of play: The only part of the new law plaintiffs have asked a judge to freeze before the November election is the ban on "line relief," or a new rule preventing third parties from handing water and snacks to voters in line.

The big picture: The case will continue to build, likely with data from the November election, and it could go to trial.

2. VoteAmerica v. Raffensperger is a case focused on the absentee ballot restrictions for third-party voting advocacy groups that the new law enacted.

State of play: A judge denied the plaintiff's request to halt some of the absentee ballot protocols for the November election. Data from 2022 will also likely be used as evidence-gathering continues for both parties.

3. Vote.org v. Georgia State Election Board zeroes in on the new law's "wet signature" rule, which requires absentee ballot applications to be signed with pen and ink, as opposed to a digital signature.

  • Vote.org is a website with its own digital platform to request absentee ballot applications. The plaintiffs argue the provision disenfranchises voters without access to a printer.

State of play: The suit was only filed a few months ago. The state has moved to dismiss it.

4. Coalition for Good Governance v. Raffensperger takes on several parts of the new law, including a ban on photography of recorded ballots, the new ability for the State Election Board to take over a problematic county's election administration and other absentee voting provisions.

State of play: This suit succeeded in getting the only preliminary injunction ahead of November. Federal judge JP Boulee ruled in the plaintiffs' favor, and stopped the implementation of the specific provision banning photography of ballots while the case is pending. (The pre-existing ban on photography in polling places remains in place.)

Voting machines

The Curling v. Raffensperger case, filed in 2017, is all about the state's voting machines and the use of technology in its voting system, including scanners and poll books. It's evolved a lot since it was first filed, just as Georgia's voting system has.

  • The original complaint, filed by activists advocating nationally for hand-marked paper ballots, alleges vulnerabilities with the voting system used in the 6th district special election in 2017. Now, it encompasses the Dominion voting machines adopted by Georgia in 2019.

State of play: Lawyers are still gathering evidence on this case. Currently, they're looking into a Secretary of State investigation into issues with Coffee County's election administration.

  • The broad-ranging case has far more docket entries than any other pending election lawsuit.

The intrigue: Some of this case's filings have been used by former President Trump's allies to call into question Georgia's Dominion voting machines. A draft December 2020 Trump administration executive order proposing to seize voting machines, which was never issued, cited a filing from federal Judge Amy Totenberg in 2020, which found some risks to the system.

Redistricting

What's happening: Beyond the Rose v. Raffensperger lawsuit over the state's Public Service Commission districts, there are also multiple lawsuits challenging Georgia's latest Republican-drawn congressional and General Assembly redistricting.

  • The various parties are arguing the new maps disenfranchise voters of color.

State of play: No preliminary injunctions were granted for these cases, which means the district lines are set for 2022, even though the cases remain in litigation.

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