Federal judge denies bid to undergo Georgia voter purge

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(CNN Newsource) -

A federal judge on Friday blocked an effort to restore 98,000 Georgia voters to the rolls who had been removed earlier this month after being classified as "inactive."

Judge Steve C. Jones denied a motion filed by the voting rights group Fair Fight Action, who had claimed that Georgia's voter-list maintenance process violated voters' rights to procedural due process under the US Constitution, court documents show.

According to the documents, Fair Fight Action -- founded by Democratic former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams -- had sued in an attempt to restore some 120,000 voters who had been removed after having had no contact with their county election officials since January 1, 2012, and had not responded to two notices. Of those, 22,000 were subsequently returned to the rolls by the secretary of state, according to the documents.

Jones, however, ruled that the 11th Amendment of the Constitution and the principles of sovereign immunity "do not permit a federal court to enjoin a state (or its officers) to follow a federal court's interpretation of the State of Georgia's laws," and that the plaintiffs failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the "no contact" provision violates the First and 14th Amendments.

Fair Fight Action's lawsuit came after Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger removed about 313,000 voters -- roughly 4% of the registered voters in the state -- from rolls this month as part of a new state provision signed into law earlier this year.

Under the provision, the state must remove registration records from the voter rolls that have been deemed "inactive" for more than three years. Voters are categorized as "inactive" if they don't vote in two general elections and have had no contact with boards of elections in that time, according to Raffensperger's office.

Raffensperger reacted to Friday's ruling by saying that "Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate" despite "activists efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars."

Still, Jones expressed serious concern in his order, saying there should be an "immediate and accurate interpretation" by the state court of Georgia's law about inactive voters.

Ahead of the recent removal, Georgia had roughly 7.4 million registered voters. Under the new roll count, there are about 7.08 million. According to Walter Jones, a spokesman for Georgia's secretary of state, an estimated 460,000 new registered voters were added within the 2018 election cycle.