U.S. District Judge Michael L. Brown said during an in-person hearing that, though the Democratic Party of Georgia had done "a very good job" of highlighting the problems of previous elections, it hadn't necessarily proved the same will happen on Nov. 3, given changes state and local officials have made to the election process.
The judge said that to apply the U.S. Supreme Court's test for weighing the burden of the state in implementing elections and of voters in participating, there needs to be some "imminent problem brewing."
"I am concerned about the lines, and I get your point that people don't have the luxury of canceling everything they're doing that day so they can stand in line for hours on end," Judge Brown said. "But if [election officials] say they're making changes, you need to prove how they're unlikely to address the situation and I don't think it's enough to simply say they haven't done it over the years."
Waiting hours to vote in Georgia at poorly resourced polling stations is such a long-standing systemic problem that it has become a tradition, lawyers for the Democratic Party said during the hearing. The party, its senatorial committee and three Black and Hispanic voters from metropolitan Atlanta are seeking an injunction that would force state and county election officials to better prepare for the upcoming general election.
They said that for more than a decade, Georgia's voters have had to wait for up to eight hours in some of the worst polling lines in the country, and that officials' repetitive promises to do better are wearing thin. Georgia's minority communities in urban areas face the worst hurdles in exercising their fundamental right to vote, according to Kevin J. Hamilton of Perkins Coie LLP, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
"Like the budding leaves of spring, like the leaves turning crimson in the fall, it happens every year, and every year it's the same communities that bear the brunt of this," Hamilton said. "It's a tradition. No one should be forced to wait in line until one o'clock in the morning to cast their ballot."
He cited an Atlanta precinct where just 20 voting machines were provided in the June 9 primary for 16,000 electors, including one of the plaintiffs whose vote was never counted as a result. The average minimum wait time for minority voters in Georgia was more than eight times longer than for white voters and plaintiffs simply want sufficient resources and training for elections, Hamilton said.
The attorney said the need for paper pollbook backups and emergency ballots was already addressed in an order on Monday by U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, who is presiding over a similar case against the state.
Counsel for the state and county officials said more technical support is being provided to all polling stations for the Nov. 3 elections, and all workers are getting extra hands-on training. Some electors have been allocated new voting places to take the load off the busiest locations, and machines are also being more evenly distributed among precincts, the defendants said.
Joshua B. Belinfante of Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC, a lawyer for the state, said it will appeal Judge Totenberg's order and request a stay of the injunction against it in that case. He said the state has done everything it is required to do for elections and to change things a month before Election Day would be an unjustified and challenging burden.
"We don't have a statewide problem," Belinfante said. "There are some issues in certain counties and that's reason to believe it's not a training issue or an allocation of technology issue by the state. It's an implementation problem at the county level."
Judge Brown asked for data showing how many voters and voting machines are allocated to each precinct before deciding the plaintiffs' request for an injunction and the defendants' motions to dismiss the suit.
The plaintiffs are represented by Adam M. Sparks, Halsey G. Knapp Jr. and Joyce G. Lewis of Krevolin & Horst LLC and Amanda J. Beane, Amanda R. Callais, Heath L. Hyatt, Jacki L. Anderson, Kevin J. Hamilton, Marc E. Elias, Marcus A. Haggard, Molly E. Mitchell and Tre A. Holloway of Perkins Coie LLP.
The defendants are represented by Carey A. Miller, Joshua B. Belinfante and Vincent R. Russo Jr. of Robbins Ross Alloy Belinfante Littlefield LLC, Charlene S. McGowan of the Georgia Attorney General's Office, David R. Lowman, Detriss Thomas, Cheryl Ringer and Kaye W. Burwell of the Fulton County Attorney's Office, Irene B. Vander Els and Shelley D. Momo of the DeKalb County Law Department, Bryan F. Jacoutot, Bryan P. Tyson and Loree A. Paradise of Taylor English Duma LLP, Jennifer R. Davenport of the Chatham County Attorney's Office, Arash A. Sabzevari, Jack R. Hancock, David A. Cole and Timothy M. Boughey of Freeman Mathis & Gary LLP, Kenneth P. Robin and Patrick D. Jaugstetter of Jarrard & Davis LLP and William H. Noland of Noland Law Firm LLC.
The case is Anderson et al. v. Raffensperger et al., case number 1:20-cv-03263, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
--Editing by Nicole Bleier.
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