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Judge Blocks Bourdeaux Campaign's Effort to Reconsider Rejected Ballots

Judge Leigh May of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

A federal judge in Atlanta has summarily rejected a request for emergency action by a Democratic candidate fighting to flip a U.S. House seat held by Republicans for more than two decades.

Trailing Republican incumbent Rob Woodall by just 533 votes, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux on Thursday morning petitioned U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May to revisit—and expand—May’s earlier temporary restraining order that imposed limits on which absentee ballots rejected by Gwinnett County election officials must be validated and counted.

The Bourdeaux campaign contended that two counties—Gwinnett and Forsyth—in Georgia’s U.S. House District 7 have applied different standards in rejecting absentee ballots. The Bourdeaux campaign asked U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May Thursday morning to revisit her earlier decision to impose limits on which rejected absentee ballots could be converted to regular ballots and counted.

“Georgia citizens may not constitutionally be disenfranchised based on which side of the county-line they reside,” Bourdeaux lawyers argued in the emergency motion. The campaign is represented by a team of attorneys at Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C.  The team includes Marc Elias, Bruce Spiva, Brian Marshall, Aria C. Branch, and K’Shaani Smith.

May denied the Bourdeaux campaign’s request just hours after it was filed. Calling it “inappropriate” and an attempt to “simply repackage prior arguments that a voter’s address and signature are not required to determine whether he or she is qualified to vote.”

May said the campaign’s equal protection claim “rests on a single sentence without any detailed analysis of the complicated legal principles the Court must resolve. … Without more, the Court will not again enjoin the certification of Gwinnett County’s election results at this late date.”

The emergency motion contended that Forsyth County election officials do not reject absentee ballots solely because of missing information on the envelope containing the ballot, including the voter’s address or signature. Forsyth County election officials also attempt to contact voters by phone and email to help them resolve any inconsistencies that might otherwise cause a ballot to be rejected.

Gwinnett County, on the other hand, rejects absentee ballots with inconsistencies or missing information on the return envelope, and does not proactively attempt to reach voters to resolve the issues, the motion said. Gwinnett officials only notify voters by mail if an absentee ballot is rejected before election day, “leaving voters at risk of receiving notice too late,” the motion said.

The motion contended that the federal Civil Rights Act prohibits the denial of the right to vote in an election because of an error or omission, “if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified to vote in that election.”

Bourdeaux’s campaign said that Forsyth County rejected only 28 absentee ballots while Gwinnett rejected more than 1,500.

On Tuesday, May ordered Gwinnett to validate all absentee ballots the county rejected because of a missing or erroneous birth year—her second temporary restraining order addressing how Gwinnett County rejected absentee ballots. The judge’s Oct. 23 order barred the county from rejecting absentee ballot applications over alleged signature mismatches without first giving voters a chance to contest the decision and confirm their identities.

The Gwinnett County Board of Elections was scheduled to certify the county’s vote totals at a 5 p.m meeting Thursday.

Bryan Tyson, an attorney with Strickland Brockington Lewis who is defending the Gwinnett County elections board, referred a request for comment to Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson. The Daily Report has contacted Sorenson and is awaiting a reply.

But in a formal response filed Thursday, Tyson argued a voter’s signature swearing to his or her residence address for voting purposes “is necessary to determine the qualifications of the voter, because it is the only method of determining whether a signature matches at this point.”

Georgia law, he added,  has “clear requirements… that a ballot shall be rejected if  the elector has failed to sign the oath.”