A new federal lawsuit was filed by multiple plaintiffs — including one from Morgan County — against the State to halt the enforcement of key sections in Georgia’s new sweeping election reform law.

“Liberty requires at least three essential things — an unfettered right to vote, freedom of speech, and the meaningful separation of powers,” the lawsuit says. “This lawsuit is necessary to preserve individual constitutional rights, and constitutional government, against the attacks that (the law) makes on these three pillars of liberty.”

The Coalition for Good Governance, a voting rights advocacy group, along with Georgia voters, election volunteers, nonprofit organizations, a journalist, and the Morgan County Democrats Second Vice Chair Jeanne Dufort, filed a lawsuit Monday morning in Atlanta against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of the State Election Board. The lawsuit is asking the U.S. District Court to deem portions of Georgia’s new election law, Senate Bill 2020, as unconstitutional and ban its enforcement.

“The lawsuit seeks to ensure that Georgia’s elections are conducted under the active control of its citizens and their local governments in a completely transparent and accountable manner,” said a press release from the Coalition for Good Governance. “SB202, enacted on March 25, attacks the most fundamental American electoral values embedded in our society for almost 250 years, guiding the conduct of our country’s elections. The Georgia State Election Board was granted power to rapidly remove entire boards of elections and boards of registration of counties with little notice or meaningful chance to defend themselves against unfair removal, while the State Board appoints one partisan official to have the full authority over all election activities.”

“I’m joining this Lawsuit because provisions in SB 202 are an assault on free and fair elections. The Takeover Provisions undermine local control and transparency, The Gag Rule and Photography Ban interferes with both the Press and citizen observers. And changing the way we validate mail ballots was a dumb idea that will make it easier to cheat — which the legislature would understand if it had just studied best practices,” explained Dufort. “Ballot secrecy is very important to me, but the idea that any one of us — voter, poll worker or watcher, member of the press — could be facing felony charges simply for walking into a polling place is outrageous. The oversized screens in the new Ballot Marking Tablets are the problem — it’s hard not to see votes from 30 feet away. All of us in polling places are now vulnerable to the allegation that we “intentionally observed a voter.”

According to Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of the Coalition of Good Governance, Georgia’s new election laws include “dangerous” provisions that could easily be used by state officials to take over local election boards, deter the freedom of the press, and intimidate voting rights activists with new allowances for felony charges should a voter, poll-watcher, or anyone happen to see another voter’s ballot choices on the larger electronic screens.

“The ‘Takeover Provisions’ are so egregious and dangerous to every concept of free and fair elections that they must be stricken from the law before they undermine Georgia’s elections,” said Marks. “The Takeover Provisions, together with the unconscionable new statutes that criminalize long-standing practices of citizen and press oversight of elections, compelled us to organize this lawsuit. The voter intimidation and attacks on Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech embodied in SB202 are abhorrent to modern democratic societies. We are resolute as we work together with 13 co-plaintiffs in this fight to protect voters from the assault on democracy embodied in SB202. The lawsuit defends three pillars of liberty.”

Raffensperger dismissed the accusations filed in the new lawsuit in an interview with the Associated Press.

“We look forward to defeating another frivolous lawsuit,” said Raffensperger.

Attorney General Chris Carr also commented on the lawsuit to the Associated Press.

“We have observed a significant amount of misinformation about this legislation,” Carr said. “Our office will properly evaluate this law and defend the state and its citizens. We have and will continue to protect access to and the integrity of voting in Georgia.”

According to the Coalition for Good Governance, the lawsuit alleges the following accusations against Georgia’s new election law:

Takeover Provision — permits the State Election Board to remove entire boards of elections and registration, appointed by county political parties, local officials and Superior Courts, and substitute the State Board’s appointee essentially permanently.♦

♦ Elector Observation Felony — makes it a felony to “intentionally observe” other citizens’ votes displayed on the large touchscreen voting machines in the polling place. The law is ripe for the arbitrary and capricious abuse of false allegations and enforcement, for a “crime” that is hard to avoid, because of the flawed design of the machines.

♦ Gag Rule — criminalizes the public’s, party-appointed monitors’ and the press’s reporting of absentee mail ballot processing or tabulation problems or progress.

♦ Estimating Ban — prohibits the press or monitors from estimating the absentee tallies they are monitoring as ballots are processed.

♦ Photography Ban — criminalizes photography of voted ballots or of the touchscreen while in use by a voter, despite the century-long history of routine press photography and videography of such election activities.

♦ Relaxed Voter ID Rule — degrades mail ballot security by removing the “gold standard” verifiable signature requirement, substituting easily stolen ID numbers and dates of birth, inviting widespread identity theft and mail ballot fraud.

♦ Impractical Application Deadline — narrowing the window for absentee ballot applications so restrictively that absentee voting is impossible in some runoff elections, and for voters with unforeseen hardship conditions, preventing their presence at the polls.

“The right to vote cannot be protected without the separation of powers and free speech. These principles know no party lines but are basic to our democracy,” said Bruce P. Brown, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “The Plaintiffs are asking the Court to strike down the Georgia General Assembly’s misguided efforts to concentrate the power over the elections into a handful of party bosses and to pull the people’s elections behind closed doors.” Brown has represented the Coalition for Good Governance in several election integrity cases, including the ongoing Curling v. Raffensperger challenge to Georgia BMD touch-screen voting system.

Dufort said she is especially troubled by the “gag-rule” during ballot processing and tabulation.

“SB202’s Gag Rule is crazy — the entire point of citizen observers is for them to report on what’s happening,” said Dufort. “Last June, while volunteering for the Vote Review Panel, I noticed the scan software was not counting some valid votes. Because I reported it, the State Election Board studied the problem and made setting changes that resulted in more votes being counted. Our legislature heard testimony about the 2020 presidential election from many citizen observers. It undermines confidence in elections when observers cannot tell what they see.”

According to the Coalition for Good Governance, five of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit serve on their home counties’ boards of elections, and seek to represent the interests of their peers across the state in ensuring that decision makers in elections continue to operate in the sunshine with public scrutiny, a core principle that will be abandoned in a county board takeover.

Individual Georgia voter plaintiffs joining the lawsuit include Jeanne Dufort of Morgan County and journalist, Brad Friedman.

The new lawsuit joins several other lawsuits aimed at overturning Georgia’s new election law. This is a developing story. Stay tuned to the Morgan County Citizen as new details unfold once the lawsuit goes to court.

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