Judge Orders GA to Protect Ballots 11/13 06:07
A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to protect provisional
ballots and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm
elections that include an unsettled race for governor.
ATLANTA (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to protect
provisional ballots and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the
midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor.
In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the
secretary of state's office to establish and publicize a hotline or website
where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if
not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots,
she ordered the secretary of state's office to review, or have county election
officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional
ballot because of registration issues.
Totenberg also ruled that Georgia must not certify the election results
before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state
State elections director Chris Harvey testified at a hearing last week that
the state had planned to certify the election results on Wednesday, a day after
the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow
preparations to begin for any necessary runoff contests, including one already
projected in the race for the next secretary of state.
Current unofficial returns show Republican Brian Kemp leading by a margin
that would make him the governor-elect. But Democrat Stacey Abrams insists that
enough outstanding votes remain to be counted that could pull Kemp below the
majority threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff.
Totenberg acted in response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by Common Cause
Georgia. The suit accuses Kemp, the state's top elections official until he
resigned as secretary of state last week, of acting recklessly after a
vulnerability in Georgia's voter registration database was exposed shortly
before the election.
Kemp's actions increased the risk that eligible voters could be illegally
removed from the voter registration database or have registration information
illegally altered, the lawsuit says.
Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an
emailed statement that the ruling helps increase voter confidence in elections.
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office did not respond to an email
sent late Monday seeking comment.
Totenberg's order doesn't change the Tuesday deadline for counties to
certify their results. But Abrams' campaign filed a lawsuit Sunday asking a
federal court to push that deadline to Wednesday, while also requiring that
elections authorities count certain provisional and absentee ballots that have
been or would be rejected for "arbitrary reasons."
"I am fighting to make sure our democracy works for and represents everyone
who has ever put their faith in it. I am fighting for every Georgian who cast a
ballot with the promise that their vote would count," Abrams said in a
statement explaining her refusal to end her bid to become the first black woman
elected governor in American history.
Kemp's campaign retorted that Abrams' latest effort is "a disgrace to
democracy" and ignores mathematical realities.
"Clearly, Stacey Abrams isn't ready for her 15 minutes of fame to end," said
Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney.
As of Monday evening, a hearing had not been scheduled for arguments in the
case, but Abrams' campaign was expecting a federal court in Atlanta to set a
Tuesday hearing, given the time sensitivity.
Unofficial returns show Kemp with a lead just shy of 60,000 votes out of
more than 3.9 million cast; Abrams would need a net gain of about 21,000 votes
to force a Dec. 4 runoff.
The Associated Press has not called the race.
The Georgia race, along with Florida's gubernatorial and Senate matchups
that are requiring recounts, are among the final measures of a midterm election
cycle that already has allowed Democrats to deal serious blows to President
Democrats already have won the House, flipped seven governor's seats and
reclaimed more than 300 state legislative seats in statehouses around the
country. The GOP maintained its Senate majority, and could still expand it. But
it's looking to hold the governor's mansions in Florida and Georgia to deny
Democrats important gains in presidential battlegrounds ahead of the 2020
Republicans have been governor in Georgia since 2003 and in Florida since
1999, and Trump has put a premium on the two states, endorsing both Kemp and
Florida's GOP nominee Ron DeSantis when they were in competitive GOP primaries
and then campaigning in person for them ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
Georgia's interim Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden on Monday directed
county officials to count some provisional ballots that had been rejected
because of voters' failure to provide their year of birth, provided the voter's
identity and eligibility was still established.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the State Election Board
asked Crittenden to send a letter instructing county election officials how to
handle absentee ballots.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Crittenden to replace Kemp, who
resigned last week after declaring victory in the governor's race. He called
his margin --- 50.3 percent of the vote --- "clear and convincing," but said he
wanted Georgians to have confidence in the certification process.
Crittenden's directive was in line with one form of relief sought by the
Abrams campaign lawsuit but rejected another.
When casting absentee ballots, voters have to sign an oath and have to write
their address and year of birth. The lawsuit asked the judge to order that
county election officials accept any absentee ballots on which there was
missing or insufficient oath information as long as that doesn't "substantially
obstruct" officials from verifying the absentee voter's identity.
The lawsuit says that at least 1,095 qualified voters who cast absentee
ballots in Gwinnett County had them "arbitrarily and unlawfully rejected"
because of missing or insufficient information.
Under Georgia law, any issues causing a voter to cast a provisional ballot
must be remedied within three days of the election --- Nov. 9 for this
election. The lawsuit asks that county election officials be required to
consider evidence proving eligibility through Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Crittenden's guidance to the counties noted that the Nov. 9 deadline for
verifying the eligibility of provisional ballots was set by state law.
The lawsuit also asked that provisional ballots cast by a voter registered
in another county be counted as if the voter had shown up at the wrong
precinct. The lawsuit says that of the 1,556 provisional ballots Fulton County
reported having rejected by Nov. 9, nearly 1,000 were disqualified because they
were cast by voters whose registration records showed them registered in
Further, the Abrams' campaign is asking that any of the court's orders in
the case be applied retroactively to counties that already have certified their
returns, meaning those counties would have to reopen their counting process
using any new standards and then submit updated returns to the state.