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Judge Orders GA to Protect Ballots     11/13 06:07

   A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to protect provisional 
ballots and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the midterm 
elections that include an unsettled race for governor.

   ATLANTA (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered Georgia take steps to protect 
provisional ballots and to wait until Friday to certify the results of the 
midterm elections that include an unsettled race for governor.

   In a ruling late Monday, U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ordered the 
secretary of state's office to establish and publicize a hotline or website 
where voters can check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if 
not, the reason why. And, for counties with 100 or more provisional ballots, 
she ordered the secretary of state's office to review, or have county election 
officials review, the eligibility of voters who had to cast a provisional 
ballot because of registration issues.

   Totenberg also ruled that Georgia must not certify the election results 
before Friday at 5 p.m., which falls before the Nov. 20 deadline set by state 
law.

   State elections director Chris Harvey testified at a hearing last week that 
the state had planned to certify the election results on Wednesday, a day after 
the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow 
preparations to begin for any necessary runoff contests, including one already 
projected in the race for the next secretary of state.

   Current unofficial returns show Republican Brian Kemp leading by a margin 
that would make him the governor-elect. But Democrat Stacey Abrams insists that 
enough outstanding votes remain to be counted that could pull Kemp below the 
majority threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff.

   Totenberg acted in response to a lawsuit filed Nov. 5 by Common Cause 
Georgia. The suit accuses Kemp, the state's top elections official until he 
resigned as secretary of state last week, of acting recklessly after a 
vulnerability in Georgia's voter registration database was exposed shortly 
before the election.

   Kemp's actions increased the risk that eligible voters could be illegally 
removed from the voter registration database or have registration information 
illegally altered, the lawsuit says.

   Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said in an 
emailed statement that the ruling helps increase voter confidence in elections. 
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office did not respond to an email 
sent late Monday seeking comment.

   Totenberg's order doesn't change the Tuesday deadline for counties to 
certify their results. But Abrams' campaign filed a lawsuit Sunday asking a 
federal court to push that deadline to Wednesday, while also requiring that 
elections authorities count certain provisional and absentee ballots that have 
been or would be rejected for "arbitrary reasons."

   "I am fighting to make sure our democracy works for and represents everyone 
who has ever put their faith in it. I am fighting for every Georgian who cast a 
ballot with the promise that their vote would count," Abrams said in a 
statement explaining her refusal to end her bid to become the first black woman 
elected governor in American history.

   Kemp's campaign retorted that Abrams' latest effort is "a disgrace to 
democracy" and ignores mathematical realities.

   "Clearly, Stacey Abrams isn't ready for her 15 minutes of fame to end," said 
Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney.

   As of Monday evening, a hearing had not been scheduled for arguments in the 
case, but Abrams' campaign was expecting a federal court in Atlanta to set a 
Tuesday hearing, given the time sensitivity.

   Unofficial returns show Kemp with a lead just shy of 60,000 votes out of 
more than 3.9 million cast; Abrams would need a net gain of about 21,000 votes 
to force a Dec. 4 runoff.

   The Associated Press has not called the race.

   The Georgia race, along with Florida's gubernatorial and Senate matchups 
that are requiring recounts, are among the final measures of a midterm election 
cycle that already has allowed Democrats to deal serious blows to President 
Donald Trump.

   Democrats already have won the House, flipped seven governor's seats and 
reclaimed more than 300 state legislative seats in statehouses around the 
country. The GOP maintained its Senate majority, and could still expand it. But 
it's looking to hold the governor's mansions in Florida and Georgia to deny 
Democrats important gains in presidential battlegrounds ahead of the 2020 
election.

   Republicans have been governor in Georgia since 2003 and in Florida since 
1999, and Trump has put a premium on the two states, endorsing both Kemp and 
Florida's GOP nominee Ron DeSantis when they were in competitive GOP primaries 
and then campaigning in person for them ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

   Georgia's interim Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden on Monday directed 
county officials to count some provisional ballots that had been rejected 
because of voters' failure to provide their year of birth, provided the voter's 
identity and eligibility was still established.

   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the State Election Board 
asked Crittenden to send a letter instructing county election officials how to 
handle absentee ballots.

   Republican Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Crittenden to replace Kemp, who 
resigned last week after declaring victory in the governor's race. He called 
his margin --- 50.3 percent of the vote --- "clear and convincing," but said he 
wanted Georgians to have confidence in the certification process.

   Crittenden's directive was in line with one form of relief sought by the 
Abrams campaign lawsuit but rejected another.

   When casting absentee ballots, voters have to sign an oath and have to write 
their address and year of birth. The lawsuit asked the judge to order that 
county election officials accept any absentee ballots on which there was 
missing or insufficient oath information as long as that doesn't "substantially 
obstruct" officials from verifying the absentee voter's identity.

   The lawsuit says that at least 1,095 qualified voters who cast absentee 
ballots in Gwinnett County had them "arbitrarily and unlawfully rejected" 
because of missing or insufficient information.

   Under Georgia law, any issues causing a voter to cast a provisional ballot 
must be remedied within three days of the election --- Nov. 9 for this 
election. The lawsuit asks that county election officials be required to 
consider evidence proving eligibility through Wednesday at 5 p.m.

   Crittenden's guidance to the counties noted that the Nov. 9 deadline for 
verifying the eligibility of provisional ballots was set by state law.

   The lawsuit also asked that provisional ballots cast by a voter registered 
in another county be counted as if the voter had shown up at the wrong 
precinct. The lawsuit says that of the 1,556 provisional ballots Fulton County 
reported having rejected by Nov. 9, nearly 1,000 were disqualified because they 
were cast by voters whose registration records showed them registered in 
another county.

   Further, the Abrams' campaign is asking that any of the court's orders in 
the case be applied retroactively to counties that already have certified their 
returns, meaning those counties would have to reopen their counting process 
using any new standards and then submit updated returns to the state.


(KA)

 
 
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