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Both sides score partial wins in Georgia elections lawsuit

A federal court judge has handed both sides in a lawsuit over a controversial election reform bill the General Assembly passed two years ago a partial victory and a partial defeat.

Judge J.P. Boulee granted a preliminary injunction Friday to civil rights and voting rights groups temporarily blocking portions of Senate Bill 202 that restricted volunteers from providing food and water to voters waiting in long lines at the polls. In a partial win for the plaintiffs, the judge declared the ban would apply only within 150 feet of a polling place.

Boulee also threw out a provision requiring voters to include their birthdate on absentee ballot envelopes.

“Today’s decisions remove some of SB202’s barriers to absentee and inperson voting in the 2024 election cycle,” said Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter. “The court recognized that voters should not be disenfranchised for forgetting to write their birthdate on their absentee ballot envelope, or arrested for offering food or drink to voters in line outside the 150-foot zone around polling locations.”

But the judge also gave Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reason to celebrate. Boulee upheld portions of the legislation banning ballot harvesting – the gathering and submitting of absentee ballots by third parties – and limiting the number of absentee ballot drop boxes.

“Georgia has one of the best absentee ballot systems in the country,” Raffensperger said. “We have no-excuse absentee ballots, with voters verified with photo ID and who are given an opportunity to cure any discrepancy prior to their ballot being rejected. It’s a system that works well.”

The plaintiffs had brought the lawsuit before last year’s elections. But the judge declined to issue a ruling last August, arguing that changing election laws close to an election would confuse voters.

The General Assembly’s Republican majorities passed SB202 in 2021 after Democrats had scored major gains in Georgia in the 2020 election cycle, including Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent GOP President Donald Trump and the capture of both of the Peach State’s U.S. Senate seats.

With the COVID-19 pandemic going strong, absentee voting played a major role in the 2020 elections, with drop boxes being used for the first time.

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