Judge issues order in Georgia counties’ voter eligibility challenges

Albany federal judge issues order in voter eligibility case

ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - An Albany federal judge has issued an order about a voter eligibility challenge in two Georgia counties.

Judge Leslie Abrams Garnder, a judge of the Albany Federal Court, issued the order in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

The challenges stemmed from Muscogee and Ben Hill counties when people in those counties said thousands of registered voters — over 3,000 in Muscogee and over 100 in Ben Hill — were no longer living in either of those counties, which was based on information on the National Change of Address Database (NCOA). The voting group Majority Forward filed a complaint after the counties found probable cause to challenge the electors presented to them.

They used the National Voters Registration Act (NVRA) as part of their argument.

“The NRVA section 8C and 8D make clear that the county boards cannot act on this mass challenge to thousands of voters in these counties based on address,” said the plaintiff’s defense team.

The order found that Majority Forward, the plaintiffs, “failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims” in regards to Ben Hill County.

For Muscogee County, the order states that Majority Forward “demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims, a likelihood of irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in their favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.”

Here is what the order means for Muscogee County:

  • The county cannot uphold a challenge to any voter’s eligibility solely on the basis of information in the NCOA registry.
  • The county is required to advise any voter whose eligibility has been challenged on the basis of the NCOA registry of the following:
    • Their eligibility was challenged because their name appeared on the NCOA registry.
    • They can cast a provisional ballot in the January runoff election.
    • The challenge to their eligibility will not be sustained without “specific evidence of ineligibility” and that evidence cannot include the appearance of a voter’s name or other information on the NCOA registry.

Muscogee’s defense team said during Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing that they never were going to deny anyone the right to vote, even before the order came down.

“Not a single person has been denied the right to vote. Not a person has been discouraged from voting. Not a single ballot has been rejected. Not a single person was taken off the court registry. And that’s what the NVRA is about. That’s what their case was about from the beginning, and if they had simply asked us and determined the true facts before they filed that complaint, they would have known that,” the defense team said.

If specific evidence is found, here is what happens:

  • The voter will be advised of the said specific evidence by phone and in writing by 5 p.m. on January 6, 2021.
  • The voter will also be advised of the “right to be heard and present evidence as to why the challenge to their ballot should be removed and their ballot should be counted.”
  • Voters will also be advised that they can present evidence by appearing at a hearing, in person or virtually, at 4 p.m. on January 8, 2021; email the information; fax the information; or mail the information on or by 5 p.m. on January 8, 2021.

Read the full order below:

On Wednesday, Garnder heard arguments from both sides.

WALB is working to learn what this order means for Ben Hill County. There is a called meeting of the Ben Hill County Board of Elections at 3 p.m. on Thursday.

Gardner was asked to recuse herself from the case.

That documentation is below:

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