WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Sept. 30, a federal district court judge in Georgia issued a ruling ending a 2018 lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action and other voting and civil rights groups. After the case went through years of litigation before the district court, a trial was held in April on three remaining claims. Today, the judge ruled in favor of the state and upheld all of the challenged laws, concluding that “[a]lthough Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither” the U.S. Constitution nor the Voting Rights Act (VRA), as alleged by the plaintiffs.
The trial focused on three Georgia election administration policies that the plaintiffs alleged violate Georgians’ right to vote and discriminate against voters depending on where they live, their citizenship statuses and their race in violation of the First, 14th and 15th Amendments and Section 2 of the VRA. First, the plaintiffs challenged the state’s exact-match policy that requires the state to cross reference the information provided on a voter registration form to information found in state and federal databases to confirm the applicant’s identity and citizenship status. Given that the matching process goes “character by character,” any discrepancies between the applicant’s information on their voter registration form and information found in the databases will result in the registration form being denied. The plaintiffs argued that this law places a particularly high burden on voters of color, who have been most affected by this policy in recent elections, and naturalized citizens because errors are more likely to cause a mismatch for these individuals. While holding that multiple factors and the reality of Georgia’s past and present discrimination “weigh in favor of” finding this practice violates Section 2 of the VRA, the judge concluded that these “factors are more generalized indicators of the status of minority life in Georgia as opposed to the indicators of whether [the exact-match policy] results in fewer opportunities for minority voters.”
Second, the lawsuit argued that the Georgia secretary of state failed to properly maintain the state’s voter rolls, allegedly causing counties to improperly flag individuals for removal. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments, ruling that the plaintiffs “failed to produce sufficient evidence of the burdens on voters resulting from” the maintenance program and that “the State has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the voter roll does not contain deceased voters or duplicate voters.” Notably, the court did find that the state’s practice of identifying individuals with felony convictions who may not be eligible to vote was flawed and improperly removed people from the voter rolls who were, in fact, eligible to vote. Even though the judge concluded that this process places a “severe burden” on the right to vote, he determined that the wrong defendant had been sued and couldn’t provide any remedy.
Third, the plaintiffs challenged the state’s lack of uniform guidance for canceling absentee ballots, arguing that the Georgia secretary of state failed to update election procedure manuals after a 2019 law altered the absentee ballot cancellation process and that counties didn’t properly train their elections on the new law. The judge held that the lack of uniform training on canceling absentee ballots and incorrect materials didn’t cause “any injury to” or “a burden on voters.”
Today’s opinion means that the practices and laws challenged by Fair Fight will remain in place in Georgia.