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Sweeping Complaint in Georgia Election May Lead a New Wave of Voting Litigation

By William Roberts

December 20, 2018

Democrat Stacey Abrams may have lost her Georgia bid to become the nation’s first black woman governor, but the federal lawsuit her supporters have filed against the actions of Republican governor-elect Brian Kemp may be the vanguard of a new activist wave of voting rights litigation, experts say. 

“We have entered a new period of racial politics,” says Jack Hardin Young, of counsel at Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, P.C. in Washington, D.C., and former special counsel to the Democratic National Committee. 

“We have people portraying certain voting groups as acting fraudulently, that their vote is not valuable. It’s perverse when you look at the growth of civil rights and voting rights, that we are slipping backward. We are still the greatest democracy in the world, but we are losing that distinction because of a very vindictive and even evil approach to voting rights.” 

The Georgia lawsuit is being brought by Fair Fight Action, a group backed by Abrams after her loss, and names the Georgia secretary of state and the State Election Board as its main defendants. 

The complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in U.S. District Court in Atlanta claiming Kemp and other Georgia officials violated the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 2002 Help America Vote Act. 

“The constitutional rights of Georgians were trampled in the 2018 general election,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, who was Abram’s’ campaign manager and is now CEO of Fair Fight Action, said in a news conference announcing the suit on November 27.  

The complaint alleges that during his nearly eight-year tenure as secretary of state, Kemp was “chief architect” of a re-installation of pre-civil rights era voting barriers designed to suppress voting by minorities. 

Plaintiffs allege in the complaint that Kemp, while he was secretary of state, and the Georgia State Election Board “grossly mismanaged an election that deprived Georgia citizens, and particularly citizens of color, of their fundamental right to vote.” 

A key milestone in the chronology laid out in the complaint is the 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder to eliminate preclearance requirements under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The court struck down as outdated a section of the voting rights law that had required certain southern states to obtain U.S. Department of Justice approval of proposed changes in their election systems, such as closures of polling locations, purges of voter rolls or complex new voter identification rules.