A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to postpone the June 9 primary election in Georgia until the end of this month and require state election officials to boost sanitizing procedures.
The suit, filed last month by a group of voters and advocates often at odds with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, argued election officials were not prepared to hold an election amid ongoing safety and health concerns over coronavirus. It asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to push the election back to June 30.
The suit also urged Judge Timothy Batten Sr. to force the state to scrap its new touchscreens for the primary in favor of all-paper ballots, which opponents of the new machines have sought in prior litigation.
In his ruling Thursday, Batten said the court should steer clear of the issue on grounds it could lead to improper political interference in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
“Absent [clear] proof provided by the plaintiffs that a political question is not at issue, courts should not substitute their own judgments for the state election codes,” Batten wrote.
The ruling comes ahead of the early voting period for the primary that is set to start Monday. It also comes as absentee ballots continue pouring in to county election offices in what is shaping up to be the biggest vote-by-mail tally for an election in Georgia history.
County offices have collected more than 250,000 absentee ballots so far out of nearly 1.4 billion ballots that have been requested statewide, Raffensperger’s office said. That number already dwarfs the roughly 223,000 mail-in ballots voters cast in the high-turnout 2018 gubernatorial election.
In a statement Friday, Raffensperger said the lawsuit’s dismissal will let election officials concentrate on gearing up for in-person voting, including efforts to distribute protective and sanitizing equipment for county election boards. He called the dismissal a warning shot for other groups like the American Civil Liberties Union challenging his office’s work toward holding the primary during the pandemic.
“I hope that the other groups who have asserted these same claims in other lawsuits will see the error of their ways, stop wasting taxpayer dollars, and drop their lawsuits,” Raffensperger said.
Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance that brought the suit, said the group is weighing possible next steps like appeal. She disagreed with Batten’s hands-off approach, arguing voter-rights issues spurred by coronavirus are exactly the type of matters in which judges and the court should weigh in.
“We need the court to intervene and bring some relief or else we are going to continue to see a chaotic handling of the election,” Marks said Friday. “It’s just going to get worse.”
Beau Evans writes for the Capitol Beat News Service