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Judge blocks suspension of votes in Georgia counties, impartiality questioned over blood relation to top Democrat politician

Judge blocks suspension of votes in Georgia counties, impartiality questioned over blood relation to top Democrat politician
Attempts to remove thousands of voters from the rolls in Georgia have been quashed by a federal judge. Opponents pressured her to recuse herself as she is related to Democratic politician, Stacey Abrams, but she declined.

The ruling filed on Monday evening by Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner targets two separate cases in which voter registrations were suspended by the local election board under similar justifications. One involves over 4,000 people in Muscogee County and the other some 150 voters in Ben Hill County.

In both instances, records from the US Postal Service's National Change of Address database (NCOA) were used to convince election officials to invalidate the registrations. Targeted voters would be required to provide proof of residency before they could get ballots for the January 5 runoff elections in Georgia.

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The ruling imposed temporary restraining orders and reversed the decisions on a request which was filed two weeks ago by a voter advocacy group called Majority Forward. The judge agreed that the NCOA list alone was not enough proof for blanket erasure from the rolls. The decisions deprived people like college students, military service members and others, who cannot be at home for the elections, from casting absentee ballots, the challengers argued. The eleven-page ruling said the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on merits of their claim in court and granted the injunction they sought.

The suspension of voter registrations in Muscogee County was pushed by a local Republican Party chairman. In Ben Hill County, the issue was raised by a city council member from Fitzgerald. The challenge of the suspensions was backed by the Democratic Party.

Partisanship came into play as the docket was reviewed by Leslie Abrams Gardner when the defendants petitioned for her removal from the case. The judge is the sister of Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2018 and a former minority leader at the state House. She also founded Fair Fight, an advocacy group fighting against voter suppression.

The defendants argued that the blood relation between the two gave reasonable grounds to question Judge Gardner's impartiality and asked her to recuse herself. The ruling mentions the motion as a footnote, saying the court finds “no basis for recusal,” promising to elaborate further later.

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During the November presidential election, Muscogee County went overwhelmingly to Joe Biden, but Donald Trump won Ben Hill County by a wide margin. The runoff elections are crucial for national politics in the US, since Republican control over the US Senate hinges on their outcome.

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