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Judge blocks attempted voter purge in two Georgia counties ahead of runoffs

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Washington — A federal judge in Georgia on Monday blocked two Georgia counties from removing more than 4,000 registered voters from their rolls and preventing them from casting a regular ballot in the January 5 runoff elections, which will determine which party controls the Senate.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Gardner sided with Majority Forward, a voter registration group, and Gamaliel Warren Turner, a Georgia voter, in their challenge to efforts by the boards of elections in Ben Hill County and Muscogee County that targeted a total of 4,185 registered voters.

Gardner, sister of voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, wrote the boards' decisions to sustain challenges to the voters' eligibility "risk disenfranchising thousands of voters." 

"Failure to grant the injunctive relief could result in eligible voters being denied the right to vote, voters who would otherwise exercise their constitutional right to vote being intimidated or discouraged from doing so, or eligible voters being forced to go to extraordinary lengths during the holiday season and ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to prove that they are eligible to vote," she said. "While the court acknowledges that an injunction may burden defendants in their role managing the ongoing election, the harm to voters whose right to vote is wrongfully impeded or denied is far greater."

Majority Forward argued the county boards unlawfully sustained challenges to the eligibility of 152 voters in Ben Hill County and 4,033 voters in Muscogee County based on inaccurate, unreliable and inconclusive data purportedly drawn from the U.S. Postal Service's National Change of Address registry.

The group asked the judge to block the county boards of elections from removing the voters from their registration lists, preventing them from casting regular ballots in the January 5 runoff elections and requiring them to cast provisional ballots or present additional eligibility. Gardner approved all three requests.

The legal battle stemmed from a coordinated effort spearheaded by True the Vote, a conservative group, that worked with voters across all of Georgia's 159 counties to challenge the eligibility of more than 364,000 voters in all. 

In Ben Hill County, resident Tommy Roberts challenged the eligibility of 328 registered voters, claiming they had moved out of state. Majority Forward believes the allegations relied on data from the National Change of Address registry. The county board of elections determined the status of 152 of those voters would be marked as "pending hearing."

Similarly, in Muscogee County, resident Ralph Russell filed a challenge to the eligibility of 4,033 registered voters to vote in the January 5 runoffs, claiming to have evidence they lived outside the state, again based on data from the National Change of Address Registry. The county board of elections upheld the challenge and said any of those voters were allowed only to cast a provisional ballot.

Voters across Georgia will head to the polls January 5 to cast their ballots in a pair of two Senate races, the first between Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock, and the second between Republican incumbent David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff.

After the November general election, Republicans will begin the new Congress holding 50 seats, but if Warnock and Ossoff win, there will be a 50-50 split in the upper chamber. In that case, incoming Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote. 

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