Judge hands down mixed ruling in Georgia election law challenge

(The Center Square) — A federal judge handed down a mixed ruling in a case challenging Georgia’s election law.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee ruled against a provision barring anyone from giving away food, drinks, or gifts if they are more than 150 feet from the polling place. However, the judge kept a ban within 150 feet, a practice commonly called “line relief.”

The ruling bars counties from rejecting absentee ballots without a birthdate or a wrong date of birth on absentee ballot envelopes. Georgia officials contend that state law allows voters to amend mistakes on an absentee ballot.

The Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and other groups filed suit over the provisions of Senate Bill 202, the Election Integrity Act, which Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed into law in March 2021. Following the judge’s ruling, state officials and the groups suing both claimed victory.

“Today’s decisions remove some of SB 202’s barriers to absentee and in-person voting in the 2024 election cycle,” Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights staff attorney at the ACLU of Georgia, said in an announcement. “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. The fight against SB 202 continues on, but today’s decisions represent an important victory for every eligible voter in Georgia.”

The court ruled against what the state argued would be an erosion of absentee ballot drop box security provisions and what they said constituted “ballot harvesting.” The groups claimed that these provisions violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Georgia continues to have one of the most secure and accessible voting systems in the country for all voters, including voters with disabilities,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. “I am glad that the court upheld Georgia’s common sense rules banning ballot harvesting and securing absentee ballot drop boxes. Georgia’s voting system is accessible to all voters, with multiple options for voters to choose how they want to exercise their right to vote.”

By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor

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