The opening of voting rights process in Georgia focuses on “exact match” rules.

“Through no fault of their own, voters in Georgia face roadblock after roadblock trying to exercise their right to vote, as we saw in 2018 and have seen in the years since,” said Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, the lead attorney for plaintiffs including voting rights group Fair Fight Action. “It just shouldn’t be that difficult to cast a vote that counts in Georgia.”

The lawsuit challenges “exact match” rules to verify voter registration information, inaccurate voter registration records, and inconsistent ballot-cancellation practices.

Defenders of Georgia’s elections told the judge the case was a politically motivated venture whose claims would not stand up to legal scrutiny.

“You’re going to hear from very few people who actually didn’t get to vote,” said Josh Belinfante, an attorney representing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the state election committee. “You will not hear about systemic incompetence from election officials.”

US District Judge Steve Jones dismissed much of the case last year, ruling against challenges over long lines, inadequate training for poll workers, rejection of ballots and the state’s “use it or lose it” policy of canceling outdated registrations.

But significant parts of the case have yet to be decided, particularly those challenging “exact match” procedures that have disproportionately affected black voters.

Under Exact Match, prospective voters must verify their ID when there is a spelling mismatch in a name, sometimes due to a transposed letter, missing hyphen, or apostrophe. Before the 2018 election, about 70% of the nearly 47,000 voter registrations marked “exact match” were from black residents.

Prosecutors said mismatched voters will not be charged because they can cast ballots if they show the same types of photo ID already required of all voters to vote in person.

The lawsuit also challenges Georgia’s citizenship verification requirements when new US citizens attempt to register to vote for the first time. If their information has not yet been updated in driver’s license databases, they will need to provide documents proving their citizenship.

In addition, the Secretary of State is accused of not adequately training local election officials to cancel absentee ballots from voters who opted to vote in person instead, resulting in voters being denied a ballot and being asked to submit a provisional one Ballots to be handed in or mailed to the District Electoral Office.

In addition, the lawsuit targets errors made by local election officials in entering or deleting voter registration information, causing problems for those voters.

“These human errors are not part of a disenfranchisement conspiracy,” Belinfante said.

The first witness for the plaintiffs, Jessica Livoti of the domestic workers’ organization Care in Action, said electoral politics in Georgia makes voting difficult for those marked by registration errors.

“It’s scary, it’s difficult and they don’t know how to deal with it,” said Livoti, a board member for the group.

As the drama unfolded in the courtroom down the street, Raffensperger held a press conference at the state capitol announcing his efforts to ask law enforcement officials to investigate people who may not have been US citizens when they tried to register to vote.

Raffensperger, a Republican seeking re-election, said a review identified 1,634 possible non-citizens who attempted to register to vote, despite citizenship checks preventing them from actually casting a ballot.

Dozens of voters, preachers, election officials and pundits are scheduled to testify during the trial, and then Jones will consider how to govern. Plaintiffs in the case allege Georgia officials violated voting rights guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws.

Several church leaders, who are also plaintiffs in the case, watched from the courtroom audience as the trial began.

“I’m glad we have some preachers here because when this is over I’m going to need a little prayer,” the judge said.