by Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder
January 2, 2024
A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a Texas group’s campaign to challenge the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters in the nationally watched U.S. Senate runoffs did not violate the Voting Rights Act.
District Court Judge Steve C. Jones concluded that Fair Fight Action did not show that True the Vote’s actions leading up to the dual Senate runoffs in early 2021 amounted to voter intimidation, as the voting rights group founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams attempted to argue.
“Not only have Plaintiffs failed to overcome the fact that their actions did not result in any direct voter contact or alone include or direct county Boards of Elections to pursue an eligibility inquiry, but there is no evidence that Defendants’ actions caused (or attempted to cause) any voter to be intimidated, coerced, or threatened in voting,” Jones wrote in a 145-page ruling.
Georgia’s election laws allow a local voter to formally challenge another person’s eligibility if they suspect the person no longer lives in that county. State lawmakers later clarified through the controversial 2021 election law that there is no limit to the number of voter eligibility challenges allowed in Georgia.
But a challenger’s protest is not the final word on whether a voter is able to cast a ballot. That decision rests with the local election boards.
Jones did, however, express some concern for the conservative group’s methods, particularly when it came to compiling a list of voters to challenge.
“(True the Vote’s) list utterly lacked reliability. Indeed, it verges on recklessness,” he wrote. “The Court has heard no testimony and seen no evidence of any significant quality control efforts, or any expertise guiding the data process.”
Jones also emphasized in a footnote that his ruling should not be misconstrued as the court condoning True the Vote’s actions in pushing “a mass number of seemingly frivolous challenges.”
Fair Fight Action sued True the Vote in December 2020 ahead of the runoffs. The voting rights group objected to the True the Vote’s announcement that it planned to challenge the eligibility of more than 360,000 Georgia voters and recruit Navy SEALs and “citizen watchdogs” to assist in the effort.
True the Vote also said at the time that it would offer a “bounty” for those who reported election fraud.
The January 2021 runoffs would send Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate, handing Democrats control of the chamber. Their historic victories made Warnock the state’s first Black senator and Ossoff Georgia’s first Jewish senator.
Representatives of Fair Fight Action highlighted the judge’s criticisms in a statement issued late Tuesday and called mass voter challenges a major threat going into this year’s presidential election.
“We believe True the Vote used Donald Trump’s Big Lie as the basis to launch eligibility challenges against more than 364,000 Georgians ahead of the runoff—many of whom were Black, brown, and first-time voters,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, who is the group’s executive director
“Over the last two years, we have seen a growing number of groups follow suit across the country, drawing from True the Vote’s anti-voter playbook to launch their own mass voter challenge efforts that continue to this day,” Stewart-Reid added.
True the Vote celebrated the ruling.
“This decision is monumental. It vindicates True the Vote in totality and establishes that eligibility challenges under Section 230 are a proper method to ensure voter rolls are accurate. I am grateful to help achieve this great victory,” said True the Vote’s attorney Jake Evans, who was an unsuccessful Republican congressional candidate in 2022.
The mass voter challenges emerged in the wake of the 2020 presidential election after former President Donald Trump’s reelection defeat.
Georgia was at the center of the feverish push to overturn the election results after Trump narrowly lost to Democrat Joe Biden, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to lose in Georgia in three decades. Trump’s narrow loss to President Joe Biden was reaffirmed through three counts, including one recount that was done by hand.
Fair Fight Action’s case focused on the actions of those filing the voter eligibility challenges, not the constitutionality of Georgia’s law. Another lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that provision is still pending.
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