GA Secretary of State Statement on Obama-Appointed Judge on Georgia Elections

An effort to challenge the eligibility of thousands of Georgia voters fell short a week before the U.S. Senate runoff elections due to Federal Judge Leslie Gardner, who is the sister of a former gubernatorial Democratic candidate and founder of voters’ rights group Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams.

On Tuesday, GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released a statement concerning the Obama-Appointed Judge who struck a blow to the rule of law in the 2020 Georgia elections.

Raffensperger stated:

An Obama-appointed federal judge issued a ruling yesterday that undermined rule of law in Georgia.

Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner of the Middle District of Georgia, sister of failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) enjoining Ben Hill and Muscogee counties from using legal processes under Georgia law to ensure only Georgia voters cast ballots in the January runoffs.

“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,” said Secretary of State Brad 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.”

Notably, the judge is the sister of Stacey Abrams. On November 18, Stacey Abrams’s organization Fair Fight donated $2.5 million to Senate Majority PAC, for which the plaintiff Majority Forward serves as the nonprofit arm. That donation was the largest to Senate Majority PAC since the November election.

According to news reports, Senate Majority PAC is “a Democratic super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.”

“That a judge would rule on case brought by a group heavily funded by her sister is very concerning,” added Secretary Raffensperger.

On December 28, 2020, Judge Abrams Gardner enjoined the Muscogee and Ben Hill Boards of Elections from proceeding with challenges to 4,033 and 152 registered voters respectively who have also filed a National Change of Address notice with the United States Postal Service, indicating they had moved.

Last week, I sent letters to 8,000 such individuals warning them of the consequences of voting while not a resident of Georgia.

By Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 21-2-217, “If a person removes to another state with the intention of making it such person’s residence, such person shall be considered to have lost such person’s residence in this state.”

At no point in the ruling does Judge Abrams Gardner acknowledge the voter challenge procedures allowed by Georgia law (O.C.G.A. § 21-2-230). Georgia law outlines a specific process by which Georgians can challenge the qualifications of other registered Georgia voters up until 5:00pm on the day before Election Day if the voter casts an absentee ballot.

Any “[s]uch challenge shall be in writing and specify distinctly the grounds of such challenge.” At that point, each challenged voter is entitled to a hearing at which “[t]he burden shall be on the elector making the challenge to prove that the person being challenged is not qualified” (O.C.G.A. § 21-2-229).

Additionally, throughout her order, Judge Abrams Gardner repeatedly refers to removing individuals from the voter lists.

The provisions of Georgia law utilized by the Muscogee and Ben Hill Boards of Elections, O.C.G.A. § 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.

Georgia is recognized as a national leader in elections. It was the first state in the country to implement the trifecta of automatic voter registration, at least 16 days of early voting (which has been called the “gold standard”), and no-excuse absentee voting.

Georgia continues to set records for voter turnout and election participation, seeing the largest increase in average turnout of any other state in the 2018 midterm election and record turnout in 2020, with over 1.3 million absentee by mail voters and over 3.6 million in-person voters utilizing Georgia’s new, secure, paper ballot voting system.

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Gardner declined to recuse herself prior to the ruling. An appeal on the ruling is expected before Jan. 5, 2021.

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