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Conservative group scores legal victory in Georgia’s 2020 election challenges

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a conservative group’s efforts to challenge the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of voters in Georgia’s early 2021 Senate runoff elections did not violate the Voting Rights Act under a clause prohibiting voter suppression.

In a 145-page opinion, Judge Steve C. Jones of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia wrote that the court “maintains its prior concerns” about the manner in which the True the Vote group sought to challenge voters. ‘eligibility. But he said Fair Fight, the liberal voting rights group that filed the lawsuit against True the Vote, failed to show its efforts were illegal.

The ruling was relatively limited, applying only to Judge Jones’ district in northern Georgia, and will do little to change the status quo: right-wing voting groups have already tried to help raise thousands of voter registration disputes in states across the country.

But the notice is likely to embolden conservative activists seeking voter fraud in the 2024 presidential election. Election officials and voting rights groups have expressed concerns about these efforts, warning that a A broader campaign to massively challenge voters could intimidate people and keep them away from the polls. True the Vote and similar groups, taking their cues from former President Donald J. Trump, have often spread false theories about election fraud.

“Any decision that allows this type of mass protest to move forward encourages this movement,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU.

In his opinion, Judge Jones wrote that the testimony of Fair Fight and individual voters during the trial did not constitute intimidation under an important section of the Voting Rights Act known as Section 11 (b), which prohibits any attempt to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate” any voter or any act of voting.

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“Although the court finds that actions increasing the difficulty of voting if combined with other conduct could give rise to a violation of Section 11(b) in certain circumstances, increased difficulty alone does not constitute voter intimidation,” Judge Jones wrote.

Voting rights experts said the ruling could raise the bar for what constitutes voter intimidation under the Voting Rights Act, and said it was a new court ruling which eroded the protections provided by the historic law.

“He had a very narrow view of what constitutes bullying,” Ms Lakin said. “But raising the bar on what you have to show will make it harder to prove allegations of voter intimidation, at least in the Northern District of Georgia.”

In a footnote to the ruling, Judge Jones, who was appointed to his position by President Barack Obama, was careful not to give his blessing to tactics like True the Vote’s.

“In reaching this conclusion, the court in no way condones TTV’s actions in facilitating a large number of seemingly frivolous challenges,” he wrote. He added: “The TTV list was completely unreliable. In fact, it borders on recklessness.

Fair Fight sued True the Vote three years ago, after the conservative group organized protests in December 2020 questioning the eligibility of more than 250,000 registered Georgia voters. To entice right-wing activists to challenge voters, True the Vote created a $1 million reward fund and offered bounties for evidence of “election malfeasance.”

Fair Fight argued in its lawsuit that the discovery of actual fraud or ineligible voters was only a secondary concern for True the Vote, and that the real intent was to scare Democratic-leaning voters and prevent them from participating in what was expected to be a very close second round of elections. would determine control of the U.S. Senate.

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Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, celebrated the decision as “an answer to the prayers of loyal patriots across America.”

“Today’s decision sends a clear message to those who attempt to control the course of our nation through justice and intimidation,” Ms. Engelbrecht wrote in a statement. “American citizens will not be silenced. »

Fair Fight, in a lengthy statement, said federal courts are not adequately protecting Americans from growing attacks on voting rights.

“While there is much to be said about the court’s 145-page opinion, Fair Fight is disappointed that Georgians and voters across the country must continue to wait for our federal courts to impose accountability in the face of widespread and growing efforts to “Voter intimidation,” Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of Fair Fight, said in the release.

It was unclear whether the group plans to appeal the decision.