After nearly four years and millions of wasted taxpayer funds, U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones ruled on Friday that Georgia’s election practices had violated neither the Constitution nor the Voting Rights Act (VRA) during the 2018 gubernatorial election. Shortly after losing that election to Republican Brian Kemp, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams famously blamed her loss on voter suppression and filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s Secretary of State and Election Board via her advocacy group, Fair Fight Action, Inc. Judge Jones finally put the Peach State out of its misery by ruling in favor of Georgia on all counts.
Statements from various Georgia officials made it clear that they considered this lawsuit little more than a protracted publicity stunt that never had a prayer of succeeding on the merits. As Gov. Kemp put it: “Judge Jones’ ruling exposes this legal effort for what it really is: a tool wielded by a politician hoping to wrongfully weaponize the legal system to further her own political goals.” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger phrased it as follows: “Stolen election & voter suppression claims by Stacey Abrams were nothing but poll-tested rhetoric not supported by facts & evidence.” Yet Abrams has taken to Twitter to indulge her penchant for characterizing defeats as victories:
The conduct of this trial and preceding cases and legislative actions represent a hard-won victory for voters who endured long lines, burdensome date of birth requirements and exact match laws that disproportionately impact Black and Brown voters … The work over the last 10 years has been to advance fairness in our democracy that is not linked to ‘the status of minority life in Georgia.’ There’s no denying voter suppression under Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger. This 288-page order spells out the cost of their actions.
But Judge Jones said nothing of the kind in his ruling. For example, he rejected the Abrams/Fair Fight claim that the “exact match” policy violates the fundamental right to vote as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. In reality, a voter who fails the exact match test is merely placed on an MIDR [Missing Identification Required] list, and is still considered a registered voter. Thus, Jones ruled, “The Court finds that Plaintiffs have failed to prove that the burdens imposed by MIDR outweigh the State’s interests in preventing fraud and complying with HAVA [Help America Vote Act]. Accordingly, MIDR does not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
The additional practices challenged by Abrams/Fair Fight were as follows: Absentee ballot cancellations (lack of proper training for election workers); The Secretary of State’s mismanagement of voter rolls (removal of eligible voters in the felon match process, removal and changes to the information of eligible voters in the duplicate match process, and removal of eligible voters in the “vitals” process). The Judge thoroughly examined each of these challenges in great detail, and concluded that the plaintiffs consistently failed to prove any of their allegations. With regard to the proper training of election workers on cancellation of ballots the Judge ruled thus:
Plaintiffs have failed to show that the Secretary of State’s training on absentee ballot cancelations burdened voters … the Court finds that Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden in establishing First and Fourteenth Amendment violations with respect to absentee ballot cancelation training because (1) there is not sufficient evidence of causation, (2) Anderson-Burdick does not apply to challenges to incorrect training materials, and (3) no viable remedies are available to ameliorate any burden caused by the incorrect training materials.
Abrams and her surrogates at Fair Fight, Inc. also alleged that the Secretary of State “purged” voter rolls by misapplication of three basic match processes. The easiest for the judge to dispose of involved duplicate registrations. As it happens, most of the work on duplicates happens at the county level. Consequently, state officials cannot be held responsible for the erroneous removal of legitimate voters from the registration rolls: “Accordingly, the Court finds that there is not sufficient causation to tie a burden caused by duplicate matching to Defendants … Plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment claim with respect to the duplicate matching process fails as a matter of law.”
Vitals matching and felon matching are, however, traceable to the Secretary of State. Vitals matching essentially involves whether a registered voter is deceased. Obviously, these individuals can’t vote and must be removed from registration rolls. Abrams & Co. were only able to produce one voter who had been incorrectly listed as deceased. Judge Jones found that, “Plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to show that the vital matching process imposes a severe burden on voters.” In the case of felons the call was not that simple. Many voters have been required to prove they are not felons many times. Judge Jones ruled in favor of the state on this, but the ruling wasn’t easy:
The Court finds that Plaintiffs have not met their burden in proving a First and Fourteenth Amendment violation because Plaintiffs have not proven that the Secretary of State caused the burden on voters … Although the Court is finding for Defendants, the Court notes that it would be a better practice for the Secretary of State to do away with the final matching criterion — last name, date of birth, gender, and race. This statement is given as a recommendation and should not be construed as a remedy.
This is thought-provoking, but it doesn’t justify Abrams’ false charges pursuant to the 2018 election. It certainly won’t offset the millions in taxpayer money the state was forced to pay defending itself against voter suppression claims that Abrams must have known were devoid of merit. Nor have the voters of Georgia failed to take note of Abrams’ mendacity. The latest RealClearPolitics average indicates she is falling further and further behind Republican incumbent Brian Kemp, who is now hovering at 50 percent or higher in most polls. Abrams can’t sue her way into the governor’s mansion, and her penchant for election denial is by no means helping her cause.