Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger made history as the longest voting rights trial on Eleventh Circuit record, resulting in numerous pro-voter developments regardless of today’s ruling
ATLANTA一 Today, Judge Steve C. Jones issued a ruling in the landmark case Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger. The lawsuit — filed in 2018, and tried in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia earlier this year — made history as the longest voting rights trial on record in the Eleventh Circuit, and put real voters at the center of conversation about voting rights in Georgia.
Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger built an unprecedented and lasting record demonstrating the suppressive effects of the state’s election practices and amplified the stories of Georgians across the state who have faced undue burdens exercising their freedom to vote. This case, put simply, gave those voters a voice.
As attacks on the freedom to vote continue to plague the nation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the Court ruled in favor of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, and the State Election Board in the Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger litigation. However, the significance and impact of this historic case is not diminished by the Court’s ruling.
Prior to this case, a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act had not received a full trial on the merits in the Northern District of Georgia in more than a decade. The litigation provided a once-in-a-decade opportunity to challenge the constitutionality and legality of voting practices in federal court at a time when all eyes are on Georgia, and exposed discriminatory and burdensome features of Georgia’s elections system. As the Court recognized, the felon matching process challenged by Plaintiffs “creates a severe burden on voters . . . forc[ing] individual voters erroneously caught by the Secretary’s matching criteria to navigate administrative obstacles that are distinctly more burdensome than the obstacles that the Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit have examined.”
Fair Fight Action Executive Director Cianti Stewart-Reid issued the following statement:
“Despite the numerous and significant pro-voter developments that have already resulted from this case, we are nonetheless disappointed by the Court’s decision. In this moment of frustration, we also are here to remind the nation: Litigation is only one tool to fight against voter suppression.
While Georgia voters must continue to wait for much-needed relief from Secretary of State Raffenspeger and the State Election Board’s suppressive elections practices, our trial was nothing short of historic — not just for the state, but for the nation. We are proud of what Fair Fight Action, our co-plaintiffs, and Georgians have achieved over the last four years. This trial was a testament to the resilience and determination of Georgia voters. Since 2018, this case has provided more than 3,000 Georgians with a platform to share their experiences. Their stories were not shared in vain. Rather, they enable Fair Fight Action and our allies to shine a light on the burdensome and discriminatory features of Georgia’s elections system while advocating for commonsense, pro-voter solutions.
The Court’s ruling today is no doubt a significant loss for the voting rights community in Georgia and across the country. However, it does not undermine the tireless work that Fair Fight Action and our allies continue to undertake to support Georgia voters and mitigate the obstacles they face to make their voices heard at the ballot box. Fair Fight Action will continue to support Georgians as they navigate the voting process and the hurdles placed in their way by SOS Raffensperger and the State Election Board’s policies and practices.
The fight continues.”
Since the lawsuit was first filed in 2018, more than 150 Georgians from across the state voluntarily gave sworn deposition testimony on the barriers they faced accessing the ballot box. Those voters were joined by more than 3,000 voters and would-be voters who have shared their voting experience via written declarations since November 2018. And more than two-dozen voters, would-be voters, and poll workers also provided testimony, which is now part of the official court record of the proceedings. As the Court stated, “It is no small undertaking to sit for a deposition, to travel to a federal courthouse, or to swear an oath and testify in public before a federal court. The participation of these witnesses merits recognition.” We agree.
Not only was Fair Fight Action v. Raffensperger the longest voting rights trial on record in the Eleventh Circuit — which includes the District Courts of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia — it was also the first voting rights case to receive a full trial on the merits in the Northern District of Georgia in the last decade.
In the four years since the lawsuit was filed, meaningful strides have been made to improve ballot access and eliminate obstacles voters face becoming and staying registered to vote, and casting their ballot. By advocating on behalf of voters, Fair Fight Action and co-plaintiffs have forced accountability among elected and appointed government officials. Even without judicial relief, through this litigation Plaintiffs have successfully advocated for commonsense, pro-voter improvements to Georgia’s elections system, including but not limited to:
- The reinstatement of 22,000+ voters who had been removed from the voting rolls as a direct result of Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction related to the 2019 Georgia Voter Purge;
- An end to Secretary of State Raffensperger’s practice of keeping eligible Georgians off the active voter list if their application does not exactly match Department of Driver Services records, character-for-character;
- Improvements to the process of canceling an absentee ballot to vote in person;
- Execution of an audit to identify thousands of Georgians wrongly excluded from the active voter list based on incorrect citizenship information; and
- Replacement of voting machines.
The litigation also exposed discriminatory and burdensome features of Georgia’s elections system, including:
- The disparate rate at which Black and brown voters are flagged by the Exact Match registration policy — ten times more likely than non-Hispanic white voters;
- That the Secretary of State’s Office was aware a federal court had determined the date-of-birth requirement for absentee ballots violated federal law but nonetheless supported inclusion of the requirement in SB 202; and
- The Secretary of State’s Office’s failure to maintain a reliable and quantifiable system for tracking, logging, analyzing, or responding to voter complaints.