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Judge sister of Stacey Abrams fails to recuse herself, rules against voter purge before Senate runoffs

A Georgia judge—the sister of former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams—refused to recuse herself from an election case, instead ruling against the purge of more than 4,000 voters from state rolls before the Jan. 5 runoffs that will decide which party controls the Senate.

Mia Cathell The Post Millennial
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A Georgia judge—the sister of failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams—refused to recuse herself from an election case, instead ruling against the purge of more than 4,000 voters from state rolls before the Jan. 5 runoffs that will decide which party controls the Senate.

The 11-page ruling by US District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner on Monday came after two counties voted to remove a tranche of names from their voter rosters based on two separate complaints that alleged that public voter registration data matched unverified change-of-address records by the US Postal Service.

The challenge in Muscogee County lodged Dec. 14 by local voter Ralph Russell compared evidence from publicly accessible voter registration databases.

"I believe that each of the individuals named ... as a result of registering their name and change of address to a location outside of Muscogee County, removed to another state with the intention of making the new state their residence," Russell told the county board. "Thus, each individual has lost their residence in Muscogee County, and consequently, each individual is ineligible to vote in Muscogee County."

The county board met Dec. 16 and backed Russell's motion three-to-one. Voters on Russell's compiled list, per the board, were then required to vote by provisional ballot and present additional proof of residency to vote.

In Ben Hill County, the board voted two-to-one to support a similar challenge lodged by Fitzgerald City Council member Tommy Roberts. "Despite this advice from the County Attorney, the Ben Hill Board voted to find that there was probable cause to sustain the challenges," Gardner contested.

The counties failed to adequately prove to the court that the voters actually gave up their Georgia residences, Politico reported. Gardner concluded that the jurisdictions appeared to have improperly relied on this data to invalidate registrations in the two counties.

According to Gardner's decision, the removal of the voters appeared to violate federal law, because they were not given proper notice and should be afforded the opportunity to provide written confirmation of their change-of-address prior to deletion from the list. The cleaning was identified as "systematic removal," which is not permitted within 90 days of an election "because that is when the risk of disenfranchising eligible voters is the greatest."

"Where the issue concerns a voter’s change of address, as in this case, the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act of 1993] prohibits the removal of that voter unless the voter confirms in writing that he or she has moved outside of the county or does not respond to a notice and has not voted in two federal election cycles," Gardner's ruling stated.

The Muscogee board filed a motion earlier Monday demanding that Gardner removes herself from the case based on her relationship with her sister, also a prominent ally of presumptive President-elect Joe Biden who has led voter registration efforts across the state.

The board's lawyers described Abrams as an outspoken advocate 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 recusal motion pointed out that Abrams-affiliated voter registration group Fair Fight filed its own suit in another federal court in Georgia last week complaining that True the Vote—a national organization that targets voter fraud—is making unjustified challenges to the validity of Georgia voters in the lead-up to the January run-off elections.

The board's lawyers further claimed that "Abrams’ involvement in the Fair Fight Litigation...is sufficient to satisfy the standard for mandatory judicial recusal."

"Abrams has a clear interest in the outcome of this proceeding and other similarly situated litigation in Georgia due to her voting advocacy through projects such as Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project," the board's attorneys wrote.

Gardner, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, acknowledged the recusal request in her ruling granting the restraining order. She declared that she declines to step aside. "The Court has reviewed the motion and finds no basis for recusal. An Order detailing the Court’s reasoning is forthcoming," the judge fired.

The bulk of the registrations that the counties sought to rescind were in Muscogee, which Biden won with ease in November. An additional 150 were from Ben Hill, a county which President Donald Trump won by a wide margin.

The suit, brought by Majority Forward and represented by National Democratic Party attorney Marc Elias, followed an effort to challenge the lengthy roster of voters.

Voting officials in the two counties agreed to expunge the voters despite arguments from Democrats maintaining that such postal data is not reliable or conclusive. Elias hailed Garner's decision as a "blow to GOP voter suppression."

"Federal court ENJOINS Georgia counties from removing 4000 voters from registration lists and making them vote provisional ballots in upcoming run-off elections," Elias tweeted, declaring "[v]ictory for @MajorityFwd and Georgia voters!"

Elias accused Republicans of trying to "disenfranchise over 300,000 Georgia voters," adding: "We continue to monitor how other Georgia counties respond to the suppression scheme. Where necessary, we will sue and we will win."

The makeup of the next Senate stands at 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. The Democrats must win both of the two Georgia run-off elections to split the Senate evenly, which would award incoming Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the tie-breaking vote and her party razor-thin sway in the chamber.

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