Federal judge gives Georgia Republicans a boost in quest to purge voter rolls

Four Georgia Republicans voting with their backs turned and the U.S. flag in front of them
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A federal judge has ruled in favor of Georgia Republicans who want to purge thousands of residents from the state’s voter rolls. Judge Steve C. Jones ruled Georgia is not required to reinstate 98,000 voters who were purged due to inactivity, reports The Washington Post. Jones argued that he does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the issue and said state courts are more qualified to make a definitive ruling.

Despite his decision, Jones noted that the GOP needs to make “additional diligent and reasonable efforts” to ensure voters know their status and options for re-registering.

The main plaintiff in the case was Fair Fight Action, a voter rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018. She lost to Republican Brian Kemp by a narrow 1.4% margin, according to New York. Kemp served as secretary of state during his gubernatorial campaign and was accused of facilitating voter suppression through his office. During the midterm elections that year, there were complaints about malfunctioning ballot machines and confusing proof of citizenship laws. Additionally, Georgia requires residents to show photo IDs to vote — a notorious form of indirect disenfranchisement.

Originally, Georgia voters were considered inactive if they didn’t contact state officials for three years and failed to vote in two general elections. In April, Kemp increased the threshold to five years. Fair Fight Action believes the new five-year law should be retroactively applied to de-registered voters. This was a point of contention for Jones, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The answer as to how HB 316 applies to the voters who were already on the state of Georgia’s inactive elector list … is not clear cut, and both plaintiffs and defendants have offered reasonable interpretations for how HB 316 affects the voters at issue,” Jones wrote in his decision.

“The court would be remiss not to express its serious concern that there needs to be an immediate and accurate interpretation by the state court of HB 316.”

Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s current secretary of state, applauded Jones’s actions. He intended to purge about 300,000 people, but Fair Fight Action was able to reinstate 120,000 voters.

“Despite activists’ efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate,” Raffensperger said in a statement to the Post.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, said the group plans to “exploring additional legal options” in light of Jones’ decision. The Georgia fight echoes other voter suppression battles happening across the country ahead of the 2020 presidential election, including in Wisconsin and North Carolina.