Government and Politics
May 19, 2021
ATLANTA—Coalition for Good Governance (CGG) today filed a lawsuit against Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and the State Election Board to stop enforcement of several of the most dangerous provisions of Senate Bill 202, Georgia’s recently enacted election legislation. The lawsuit also asks the U.S. District Court in Atlanta to declare the challenged provisions unconstitutional. 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.
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.
“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 Marilyn Marks, CGG’s Executive Director. “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.
These pillars of liberty are explained in the introduction of the complaint:
Liberty requires at least three essential things—an unfettered right to vote, freedom of speech, and the meaningful separation of powers. This lawsuit is necessary to preserve individual constitutional rights, and constitutional government, against the attacks that SB202 makes on these three pillars of liberty. "
The lawsuit challenges the following provisions of SB202:
-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. (Separation of Powers)
-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. (See photos in the complaint.) (Right to Vote)
-Gag Rule — criminalizes the public’s, party-appointed monitors’ and the press’s reporting of absentee mail ballot processing or tabulation problems or progress. (Freedom of Speech)
-Estimating Ban — prohibits the press or monitors from estimating the absentee tallies they are monitoring as ballots are processed. (Freedom of Speech)
-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. (Freedom of Speech)
-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. (Right to Vote)
-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. (Right to Vote)
“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.” Mr. Brown has represented Coalition for Good Governance in several election integrity cases, including the ongoing Curling v. Raffensperger challenge to Georgia BMD touchscreen voting system.
“The provisions allowing for takeover of local government elections boards and the requirements for birthdates and driver’s license numbers for certain absentee ballots are thinly veiled political tools threatening Georgians’ constitutional rights. The potential for the political takeover of these boards without real due process of law and the potential for identity theft are grave burdens on the right to vote which must be stopped,” stated former State Senator and State Representative Greg Hecht, and former Chair of the Elections Subcommittee in the Georgia House. He is also co-counsel in the case.
Shea Roberts, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, and House District 52 Representative (Fulton County) said, “Being new to the legislature, I was shocked by the last minute merging of bad bills that ultimately grew into the 98 page Senate Bill 202. There are so many deeply damaging provisions in the bill, but when the sponsors added county takeover provisions, that’s when I became very afraid for Georgia voters,” said Rep. Roberts. “As an attorney, I knew it would require powerful litigation to address this assault on the fundamental principles of our democracy. I am proud to represent the plaintiffs in defending democracy’s core values.”
Five plaintiffs 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. The board member plaintiffs are Antwan Lang (Chatham County), Judy McNichols (Jackson County), Patricia Pullar (Clayton County), Adam Shirley (Athens-Clarke County), and Ernestine Thomas-Clarke (Coffee County).
Georgia Advancing Progress Political Action Committee (“GAPPAC”), a non-profit organization representing the interests of Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters and the Jackson County Democratic Committee join CGG as membership organizations advancing this lawsuit on behalf of its members.
Individual Georgia voter plaintiffs joining the lawsuit include Jeanne Dufort (Morgan County), Ryan Graham (Fulton County), Rhonda Martin (Fulton County), Aileen Nakamura (Fulton County), and Elizabeth Throop (DeKalb County). Broadcaster and journalist, Brad Friedman joins as a plaintiff to challenge SB202's infringements on Freedom of the Press.
Ryan Graham, a plaintiff and the Chair of the Libertarian Party of Georgia said, “The State Election Board and the partisan Secretary of State appear to want to control election outcomes, and they believe the best way to do that is to expand top-down election authority at the expense of transparency and the sovereignty of the people. We will not allow SB202 to be used to bully local officials, nor to exclude election observers. If 2020's election has proven anything to Georgians, it should be that we need more transparency, more accountability, more visibility to the people. Not more power for career partisans and back room deals."
CGG’s purpose is to preserve and advance the constitutional liberties and individual civil rights of United States citizens, with an emphasis on preserving and protecting the civil rights of its members that are exercised through their participation in public elections and oversight of government activities.