Georgia judge reverses course on voter eligibility case ahead of Senate runoffs

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Georgia ruled against two countries that sought to remove more than 4,000 voters from the rolls over questions of eligibility stemming from their appearances on the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) registry.

But on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, sister of failed Democrat Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, reversed course.

According to Politico, the judge rolled back her prior ruling Wednesday and will now allow the counties involved in the suit to force more than 4,000 voters to cast provisional ballots in the Peach State’s upcoming runoff elections, which are under heavy scrutiny as control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance.

A change in stance

In Gardner’s previous ruling, she had all but completely blocked Ben Hill County and Muscogee County from taking any action whatsoever against the voters in question. But in a somewhat surprising three-page order issued just before midnight Wednesday, Judge Gardner walked that back.

According to Politico, the judge found that the plaintiff — a Democratic voting rights group known as Majority Forward — was unlikely to prevail in its suit against Ben Hill County, but could still succeed in the challenge to Muscogee County.

Given the shift in her outlook on the prospects for the plaintiffs, Gardner dissolved the temporary restraining order she had placed on both counties and replaced it with a partial preliminary injunction against Muscogee County that would allow its board of elections to move forward with its challenge regarding the eligibility of the voters in question, albeit under certain conditions.

The bottom line

Now, the county could require those 4,000-plus voters to cast provisional ballots in the upcoming election; before, they would have cast regular ballots.

As for the questionable eligibility of those voters, the county can’t remove them from the voter rolls solely on the evidence of their appearance in the NCOA, the judge said.

Those voters also must be notified by the county no later than Jan. 6 that their eligibility is in question, and the voters have until Jan. 8 to provide evidence of eligible residency in the county in order for their provisional ballot to be counted, the judge ruled, according to Politico.

She refused to recuse

Gardner’s reversal comes amid scrutiny given the judge’s relationship to her sister, Abrams. According to The Daily Caller, allies of President Donald Trump as well as Muscogee County called on Gardner to recuse herself from the case, given the circumstances, but thus far, she has refused.

“Stacey Abrams sister is the judge… nothing shady at all here,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., wrote in a tweet, as the Daily Caller reported. “If it were reversed the Democrats would be screaming for recusal etc. but the GOP won’t because they’re weak.”

Gardner wrote in a rebuttal to the county’s motion to recuse that allegations of bias and partiality are rooted in “unsupported, irrational, and highly tenuous speculation,” according to Politico.

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