ATLANTA (AP) - A lawsuit challenging Georgia's election system can move forward, a judge ruled Thursday in the legal case filed by a group founded by former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
The federal lawsuit was filed in November, weeks after Abrams narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp in an election that drew national attention.
During the campaign, Abrams and her allies accused Kemp of voter suppression. At the time, Kemp was secretary of state, Georgia's top elections official. He vehemently denied the allegations.
The lawsuit accuses the secretary of state and election board members of mismanaging the 2018 election in ways that deprived some citizens, particularly low-income people and minorities, of their constitutional right to vote. It seeks substantial reforms and asks that Georgia be required to get a federal judge's approval before changing voting rules.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Thursday rejected a request by state officials to dismiss the lawsuit.
The suit was filed by Fair Fight Action, an organization founded by Abrams, and Care in Action Georgia, a nonprofit that advocates for domestic workers. Several churches, including Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once was pastor, joined the suit in February.
They allege that November's vote was marred by problems including long waits at polling places, absentee ballots that weren't received or weren't counted, missing or erroneous voter registration records, malfunctioning voting machines and poorly trained poll workers.
Lawyers for the state election officials had asked the judge to toss out the lawsuit. They said the organizations that filed it based their arguments on speculation and hadn't demonstrated they had suffered any harm for which the court could provide a remedy.
The state also contended that a new law signed by Kemp, providing specifications for a new voting system, makes significant changes that render some of the issues raised in the lawsuit irrelevant and contributes to the hypothetical nature of others.
But Jones ruled that the harm alleged by the organizations was sufficient to move the lawsuit forward and that the recently passed law amending some of Georgia's election processes doesn't make the lawsuit irrelevant.
Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said in a statement that the ruling is "a significant victory for voting rights in Georgia and across the country."
"We look forward to immediately beginning the discovery phase and learning even more about the many ways Georgians have had their votes suppressed," Groh-Wargo said.
An email and phone call to Georgia secretary of state spokeswoman Tess Hammock were not immediately returned.
Separately, another federal judge earlier ruled that a lawsuit challenging Georgia's outdated voting machines and seeking statewide use of hand-marked paper ballots can move forward. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on May 21 denied state officials' request to dismiss that lawsuit.
Associated Press writer Ben Nadler contributed from Atlanta.