Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner blocked two counties from purging over 4,000 voters from the rolls for Georgia’s upcoming runoff elections. Gardner is the sister of Democratic activist and failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Abrams is the leader of Fair Fight Action, a voter rights organization, and the founder of New Georgia Project, which is under investigation currently by the secretary of state’s office.
The defendants requested that Gardner recuse herself due to her relationship with Abrams and Fair Fight. Their reasoning concerned Fair Fight’s current engagement in a similar federal court-level lawsuit, filed on the same day last week as their lawsuit. The defendants noted that the lead counsel in both cases are also the same.
“[A]ny relief rendered in the instant case as it relates to the NCOAR (National Change of Address Registry) would likely be cited as persuasive authority in the Fair Fight Litigation,” wrote the defendants. “Abrams’ interest could therefore be substantially affected by the outcome of this proceeding. For this reason, Judge Gardner’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned were this case to proceed before her.”
Gardner refused to recuse herself on the case. She offered no immediate explanation, instead issuing a brief footnote on the first page of her order acknowledging the defendants’ request.
“The Court has reviewed the motion and finds no basis for recusal,” wrote Gardner. “An Order detailing the Court’s reasoning is forthcoming.”
Gardner issued the ruling on Monday. The order prevented two counties from challenging the eligibility of certain voters: over 150 voters in Ben Hill County, and over 4,000 voters in Muscogee County. The eligibility challenges arose from the county’s review of evidence gathered from comparing each county’s voter registration databases and the NCOAR.
Prior to the court order, both counties would only allow the challenged voters to cast a provisional ballot. Gardner ruled that the voters weren’t given the opportunity to provide written confirmation of their changed addresses, and that both counties had failed to undertake individual inquiries into each voter’s case. Gardner also called the challenged voters, “Targeted Voters,” and stated that both counties were violating those voters’ right to vote.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a statement on the ruling, stating that Gardner’s decision “undermined rule of law in Georgia.”
“This ruling is a direct attack on rule of law in Georgia and the integrity of elections in this state, and I will not stand for it,” stated Raffensperger. “Without even hearing from Muscogee County, a President Obama-appointed judge has decided to overturn the express will of Georgia law and the county elections officers around the state who follow it.”
The press release noted that the plaintiff in the case was heavily funded by Fair Fight through its parent political action committee, Senate Majority PAC. The secretary of state’s office also contradicted Gardner’s claims, noting that it had issues warning letters to 8,000 individuals who’d changed addresses – including those affected by the ruling.
“Additionally, throughout the order, Judge Abrams Gardner repeatedly refers to removing individuals from the voter lists,” stated the press release. “The provisions of Georgia law utilized by the Muscogee and Ben Hill Boards of Elections, O.C.G.A. section 21-2-230, deal specifically to the acceptance or rejection of ballots cast by a challenged individual, not to the removal of individuals from voter lists.”
Abrams’ spokespersons with Fair Fight didn’t respond to The Georgia Star News request for comment by press time.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Georgia Star News and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Voting Booths” by Tim Evanson. CC BY-SA 2.0.