Courts will decide Georgia’s voting rights – and possibly election results | Associated Press

ATLANTA – Fierce battles over vote-counting have already been waged in the courts this election season, with armies of voting advocates, political parties and lawyers preparing to bring further challenges to Georgia’s electoral laws when ballots are cast .

The most significant court intervention to date came when a federal judge recently authorized the acceptance of absentee ballots if they are stamped by election day, a decision that could add tens of thousands of votes. Many more sentences are yet to come.

Judges are considering at least 17 cases related to voter registration deletions, long lines, ballot postage, paper ballots, voter registration backups, and election security.

Then, in November, further legal complaints will arise, especially in close elections if there are disputes over absentee ballot counting, voter registration problems, or polluting issues. The coronavirus pandemic will give lawyers further justification for asking voters for relief, an argument that worked in the August 31 ruling that extends the deadline for absentee votes.

Whoever gets the most votes from court decisions will have the best chance of winning tight local contests – or even swinging how Georgia votes for president. Polls show a close run in Georgia, with Republican President Donald Trump leading in some polls and Democrat Joe Biden leading in others.

“What other resource do we have as private citizens? This is our right to vote,” asked Donna Curling, a longtime Fulton County electoral security advocate and plaintiff in a lawsuit looking for hand-marked paper ballots. “There are problems everywhere. I think we will have a difficult month in November”.

Legal skirmishes have the potential to delay final results in Georgia matches if election officials are forced to conduct recount or review rejected ballots. Combined with a large number of expected absentee votes, the results may not be known for days.

The ongoing lawsuits carry a significant cost to Georgia’s taxpayers, totaling $ 3.2 million in legal fees and fees, according to the attorney general’s office. The costs were split between several outside attorneys hired to help defend the state over the past three contentious years.

Plaintiffs must also spend their own money or the contributions of their donors. Cases are often brought by activists, voters, and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Civil Rights Advocates Committee under the Act, the NAACP, and the New Georgia Project. At least a dozen organizations are plaintiffs in active court cases in Georgia.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said election causes are often politically motivated efforts that ask judges, rather than state representatives, to set policy.

“This litigation is expensive and in fact falls on the shoulders of Georgia’s taxpayers,” Carr said. “Furthermore, these cases are too often political in nature and are more suitable for the legislative process than for the judicial system.”

The tide of litigation isn’t just affecting Georgia, said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who oversaw voting cases in the Justice Department during the Obama administration. At least 233 election cases related to COVID-19 are pending in federal courts across the country, of which six are in Georgia, according to Levitt’s tally.

“The rules that may apply when we don’t have a pandemic once in a century may not always apply when we have a once in a century pandemic,” Levitt said. “This year, we should expect the courts to be more active across the board because the circumstances of the pandemic actually create emergencies that courts may be better at resolving than lawmakers.”

The list of causes will only grow if voters have trouble voting – a guarantee in any election, no less one that relies heavily on absent ballots during potential U.S. Postal Service delays and socially distant in-person voting, where anyone could be contagious carrier of the virus.

Political parties, activist groups, candidates and voters are expected to turn to the courts to try to keep polling stations open late, count wrong votes, judge unclear choices, recount, provide relief from long queues and counting absent latecomers and provisional ballot papers.

Similar last-minute legal disputes unfolded in the heated 2018 election when a series of rulings ordered election officials to review and count thousands of absent and provisional ballots that had been turned down in the bids for governor between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, as well as the contest for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger appealed the decision on an absent voting deadline, escalating the controversy over whether to count the ballots that were stamped on election day and received within three days. His lawyers argue that the change from the state election day deadline to the return of ballots will delay results and confuse voters.

Vote-counting lawsuits may be inevitable in Georgia’s highly competitive and nationwide supervised elections, said Halsey Knapp, a lawyer in the absentee ballot deadline case, as well as electoral security lawsuits and long lines.

“I would say we are the epicenter of voting rights litigation in the country,” Knapp said. “Voter repression and deception, so to speak, were part of the legacy of Georgia’s vote.”

The politics of the right to vote

While Georgia’s Republican-led government is on the defensive against lawsuits by Democrats and nonprofits seeking to expand voting rights beyond the limits of state law, Republicans are fighting back.

The Trump campaign and the Republican Party are planning an extensive poll monitoring operation in 15 battlefield states, including Georgia, to look for potential vote fraud. Though fraud has been rare in recent years, Raffensperger raised the prospect when he announced Tuesday that around 1,000 people were allowed to vote twice in Georgia’s primary.

“In yet another state, Democrats and Joe Biden are attempting to rewrite our laws and institute wholesale election changes that fit their far-left agenda,” said Savannah Viar, spokesperson for Trump’s Georgia campaign. “It is crucial that voters maintain confidence in our electoral process when they vote.”

Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group Abrams started after the 2018 election, also plans to train poll watchers and encourage voters to call a hotline to report issues.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are involved in electoral causes in 19 states, but Georgia is not one of them. Georgia’s Republican elected officials are defending lawsuits against the state.

Spokesman Seth Bringman said a large lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action over voter registration cancellations, ward closures, long lines and disqualified ballots could be used to seek emergency help from the courts when problems arise. The underlying lawsuit is pending and a trial won’t be held until next year.

Georgia’s ACLU, which is appealing a ruling ruling that a postage requirement for voters to send absentee ballots is not an election tax, is ready to respond to potential problems, both with ballots sent in the mail and in polling stations, said Andrea Young, state executive director of the civil rights organization.

“There are so many things that can go wrong in a highly contested election like this,” Young said. “Courts must make sure they are receptive to problems with voting. The point is to say that every vote should be counted.”

Judges often decide voting cases by weighing the damage to voters against the burden on election officials, based on the precedent of the United States Supreme Court, the Constitution’s free speech and due process protection and laws governing trials electoral. As election day approaches, courts will be more reluctant to inject themselves due to the risk of confusing voters at the last minute, a principle established by a 2006 Supreme Court case, Levitt said.

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Where plaintiffs see the courts as a last resort to protect basic voting rights, others see judicial activism.

For example, Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton said the court ruling allowing counting of late absentee ballots overturned consolidated laws established by the Georgia General Assembly.

“This judge alone has decided that because of the coronavirus, the electoral rules should be eliminated,” said Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, which files requests for registrations and legal action to investigate government misconduct. “The left sees friendly courts as a vehicle to influence policy change. The stakes are high from their point of view.”

But without the courts, electoral laws don’t always protect equal rights for non-voters, said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration organization and plaintiff in the case of the expiration of the vote. vote for absent.

“It’s been a while since my government class in high school, but from what I remember there are three branches of government. When the legislator fails to write laws that protect the rights of voters, people have options,” he said. said Ufot. “It is extraordinarily important that the courts play this role.”

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