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Federal judge won't block parts of Georgia election law

With early voting underway in runoffs for two state House seats, the judge said putting the rules on hold so close to an election would confuse voters.
Demonstrators stand outside of the Capitol building in Atlanta on March 3, 2021, to oppose the HB 531 bill that would place restrictions on voting.
Demonstrators stand outside the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta on March 3 to oppose Republican-backed voting restrictions.Megan Varner / Getty Images file

A federal judge Wednesday refused to block parts of Georgia's new voting restrictions, ruling that putting them on hold now would confuse voters so close to a pair of runoff elections.

Early voting is underway in runoffs for two state House seats. Election Day is Tuesday.

Judge J.P. Boulee of U.S. District Court in Atlanta said that it's too late to make changes in voting procedures and that the challengers delayed too long in asking for an injunction.

"Plaintiffs waited almost three months after SB 202 passed and until the eve before the underlying election to file their motion," he wrote in an 11-page order.

"We are at the juncture where all of the challenged provisions are already the law. Therefore, an injunction would not merely preserve the status quo; rather, it would change the law in the ninth inning," he wrote.

Courts are often reluctant to change the rules close to elections, and election law experts said the ruling was not surprising. The judge expressed no view about whether the challenged provisions were unconstitutional.

The Coalition for Good Governance, an election security group, said five provisions of the new law had the purpose and effect of "severely obstructing election transparency, degrading election security, and intimidating voters and members of the press who serve the vital role of providing citizen oversight of election administration."

The group asked the judge to block enforcement of a part of the law requiring voters to request absentee ballots at least 11 days before a runoff. They also challenged four other rules that prohibit:

  • Intentionally observing an elector while casting a ballot in a manner that would allow such person to see for whom or what the elector is voting.
  • Photographing a ballot or an electronic screen during voting after the ballot is marked.
  • Communicating to anyone except election officials about anything election monitors or observers see during the scanning or processing of ballots.
  • Tallying, tabulating, estimating or attempting to do so until the polls have closed.

The judge said he "reserves judgment regarding the propriety of relief as to future elections and will issue a separate order on this question at a later date."