The voting rights process will consider allegations of problems in the Georgia election

The defendants in the case — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and state election officials — say they have already dismissed many of the allegations in previous court rulings, leaving a tight and weak case.

Pro-suffrage advocates such as Shavonne Williams, an Augusta Region minister, said victory in the case would prove Georgia had created illegal obstacles preventing fair and representative elections.

“It would be a huge moment for voting rights if the court does the right thing,” said Williams of the group Faith in Public Life. “You can’t have real representation if everyone doesn’t get to vote. Of course, there are obstacles to voting in Georgia.”

But Georgian election officials will claim that voting procedures follow the law and provide easy access, even for those who need to take extra steps to verify their identity or wait for poll officials to issue them a ballot.

Jason Torchinsky, a Washington-based Republican election attorney, said the lawsuit has already fallen short of its ambitions to expose widespread voting problems. Because a judge threw out much of the case last year, he said the remaining parts target reasonable requirements that affected relatively few voters.

“There aren’t the hundreds of thousands of so-called disenfranchised that they initially claimed,” Torchinsky said. “You kind of shake your head at the Trumpian nature of some of the initial allegations versus what actually needs to be brought to justice.”

The trial could last about a month and involve dozens of witnesses, including dismayed voters, election officials and preachers. Democratic US Senator Raphael Warnock is scheduled to testify via video.

The case concerns four voting procedures in Georgia:

  • “Exact match” voter registration rules that require ID verification when there is a spelling mismatch of a name, sometimes due to a transposed letter, missing hyphen, or apostrophe. These registrants can cast a vote after identifying themselves. Before the 2018 election, nearly 47,000 voter registrations were placed in pending status, about 70% of which were from black residents.
  • Citizenship verification requirements that hold up the registration of new US citizens whose information has not been updated in driver’s license databases. These potential voters can cast a ballot by providing documents proving their citizenship.
  • Inconsistent procedures for canceling absentee ballots when voters voted in person instead, resulting in voters being denied a ballot, being asked to cast a provisional ballot, or being sent to the county’s main election office.
  • Voter registration errors when district elections offices entered information incorrectly or removed registrations.

Raffensperger, Georgia’s top election official, said the lawsuit was frivolous.

“Almost all of Abrams’ claims have already been dismissed, and the remaining ones are nowhere near what she claimed in her nonconcession speech,” Raffensperger said after the 2018 election. “Her three-year ‘stolen election’ campaign was nothing more than a political one ploy to keep them in the national spotlight and it’s a disservice to voters.”

When opening statements begin Monday, it will be the first voting rights case to go to trial in Atlanta federal court in at least a decade.

Fair Fight plans to summon voters as witnesses to tell their stories of how Georgia’s electoral regulations have either prevented or made it difficult for them to vote.

“We’ve highlighted real voters and their challenges because we believe it’s one of the most effective ways to show the barriers in the Georgian electoral system,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Fair Fight Action. “We will continue to amplify voters’ voices in court as Georgians across the state testify about the obstacles they have faced in exercising their fundamental right to vote.”

The case will be decided by US District Judge Steve Jones in a bench trial, meaning there will be no jury.

Jones dismissed many of Fair Fight’s claims last year, ruling against challenges to registration cancellations, insufficient voting machines, inadequate training for poll workers and ballot rejection. Prior to this ruling, a 2019 court case resulted in the reinstatement of 22,000 inactive voter registrations out of 300,000 registrations that had been removed from the rosters.

During the trial, Fair Fight will attempt to prove that Georgia officials violated voting rights guaranteed by the US Constitution’s protections of free speech, equal protection and nondiscrimination in elections. The case also alleges violations of the Voting Rights Act 1965, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting laws.

But prosecutors said the case was groundless.

They wrote in court filings that alleged voting problems were limited in scope and did not create unconstitutional burdens on voting ability. They also claim that voter registration verification is required by federal law and there is no evidence of discriminatory intent in Georgia’s application of that law.

If Jones decides in favor of Fair Fight, he could order election officials to change the way they administer elections. Any decision can be appealed, and Raffensperger said he will appeal the case to the US Supreme Court if he loses.