ATLANTA — A federal judge on Friday evening ruled that Georgia’s election law does not violate voters’ constitutional rights, dealing a blow to Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group aligned with the Democratic nominee for governor, Stacey Abrams.
U.S. District Court Judge Steven Jones ruled against all the claims brought by Fair Fight Action, which had challenged Georgia’s absentee ballot provisions, oversight of voter rolls and the state’s “exact match” law, which mandates that a voter’s name on their voter application be identical to their government identification, even in the case of hyphens or accent marks. A majority of the voter applications flagged for inconsistencies in 2018 belonged to voters of color, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.
“Although Georgia’s election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the Voting Rights Act,” Judge Jones wrote in his 288-page order. The judge, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, added that the “burden on voters is relatively low” and that Fair Fight Action did not provide “direct evidence of a voter who was unable to vote, experienced longer wait times, was confused about voter registration status.”
The plaintiffs, many of whom were Georgia voters, had argued that the 2018 election had been marked by a number of barriers to access to the ballot that had been racially discriminatory. Subsequent research showed that Georgia voters in 2018 saw longer lines in majority-minority precincts, faulty election equipment and undertrained staff.
In a statement, the Fair Fight Action executive director Cianti Stewart-Reid called the ruling a “significant loss for the voting rights community in Georgia and across the country.”
The ruling, which caps a four-year legal battle between the voting rights group and Georgia’s secretary of state, is a blow to Ms. Abrams, who founded Fair Fight in 2018 after losing to now-Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, by less than 60,000 votes in her first run for governor. She has said she believes discriminatory election rules were a factor in her loss.
“Over the past four years, Fair Fight and its allies have exposed a deeply flawed and problematic system,” Ms. Abrams, who is running in a rematch against Mr. Kemp, said in a statement. “As the judge says in his first sentence, ‘This is a voting rights case that resulted in wins and losses for all parties.’ However, the battle for voter empowerment over voter suppression persists, and the cause of voter access endures. I will not stop fighting to ensure every vote can be cast, every ballot is counted and every voice is heard.”
In a statement issued on Friday evening, Mr. Kemp said that the 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.”