A federal judge in Georgia has blocked two counties from removing roughly 4,000 names from their voter rolls ahead of runoff elections to determine control of the U.S. Senate in January.
District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, sister to former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, issued a restraining order against Muscogee and Ben Hill counties on Monday over calls for her recusal from the case. The Obama-appointed judge ruled that the counties had improperly scrubbed names from their lists of registered voters over unverified change-of-address data, according to Politico.
The ruling came as a result of a challenge to over 360,000 names of allegedly improperly registered Georgia voters lodged by the Georgia Republican Party and the election watchdog group True the Vote. The groups pointed out that the residences of those voters registered with the U.S. Postal Service had changed, potentially making them registered to vote in two separate places.
While the challenge spanned every county in Georgia, most election boards rejected the requests for changes to their voter rolls. Muscogee and Ben Hill county election boards agreed to remove contested voter names. Democratic Party attorney Marc Elias’ organization Majority Forward filed a complaint against the counties arguing that U.S. Postal Service is an unreliable source for accurate information on where someone may live.
“The Court has considered Plaintiffs’ motion for temporary restraining order, supporting authorities, and the evidence and pleadings of record, and finds that: (1) Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim; (2) Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable injury unless this Court issues an injunction granting relief; (3) the threatened injury to Plaintiffs outweighs possible harm that the injunction may cause the opposing parties; and (4) the injunction is in the public interest,” Gardner wrote in her ruling. “The Court thus finds that Plaintiffs have clearly established their burden of persuasion as to each of these four factors, and accordingly Plaintiffs’ Motion is GRANTED.”
Prior to the ruling, the election board in Muscogee moved to have Gardner recused from the case because of her relationship with Abrams, a vocal ally of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
“Judge Gardner is the sister of Stacey Abrams, a Georgia politician and voting rights activist who was the Democratic candidate in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and has since engaged in various highly-publicized efforts to increase voter registration and turnout for the 2020 general election in Georgia,” the Muscogee motion says.
Attorneys for the Muscogee election board argued that Gardner should be removed from the case because Abrams’ group, Fair Fight, was involved in litigation filed in another federal court against True the Vote over its challenge to voter registration rolls in Georgia.
“Abrams’ interest could therefore be substantially affected by the outcome of this proceeding,” the lawyers argued. “For this reason, Judge Gardner’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned were this case to proceed before her. The Muscogee County Defendants respectfully request that Judge Gardner recuse herself from further involvement in the present case.”
The legal wrangling over Georgia’s voter rolls comes ahead of two Jan. 5 runoff races that will decide control of the Senate. Incumbent Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are facing off against their Democratic opponents Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively.