ATLANTA - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit prompted by the coronavirus outbreak that sought to further delay Georgia’s primary election and to force other changes to the voting process.
“The Framers of the Constitution did not envision a primary role for the courts in managing elections, but instead reserved election management to the legislatures,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten wrote in an opinion issued Thursday.
The lawsuit filed last month by an election integrity advocacy group and individual Georgia voters asked a judge to postpone the primary election from June 9 to June 30, implement measures to protect voters and election workers from the coronavirus and make voting by mail more practical.
Citing the virus outbreak, Georgia officials first bumped the March presidential primaries to May 19 — when voters were set to choose party nominees for a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House members, as well as state and local races. In April, as infections and deaths continued to climb, election day was pushed back again to June 9. Election officials have urged voters to vote by mail.
In a new filing Monday, the plaintiffs raised concerns about potential voter confusion because mail ballots sent to voters still featured the May election date and there were no instructions in the ballot package explaining that the election date had been moved.
Batten noted in his ruling that even those who filed the lawsuit acknowledge that state officials have taken steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Although they may not think those efforts are sufficient, he wrote, that is “a classic political question involving policy choices” and it isn’t the role of the courts to “second-guess coordinate branches of government on matters explicitly committed to them.”
He added that “there are no discernible and manageable standards to decide issues such as how early is too early to hold the election or how many safety measures are enough” and that ordering state officials to adopt the measures laid out in the lawsuit “would require the Court to micromanage the State’s election process.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger applauded the judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit.
“While we fought to provide safe and secure voting during an unprecedented pandemic, these activist groups have wasted taxpayer money on frivolous lawsuits,” he said in a statement.
Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, said in an email Friday that they are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are considering alternatives. She wrote that voters remain confused by the wrong date on mail ballots and that the governor has ordered people over 65 and those with medical conditions to stay home through June 12 without providing an exception for in-person voting.
“These two issues alone are reason to postpone the election until it can be conducted in a legal and orderly manner,” she wrote.