A strong showing by Democrat Jon Ossoff in the first round of the Georgia special election Tuesday has progressives hopeful they can pick up a GOP-leaning congressional seat and deal President Trump a major blow.
But Georgia’s strict voter registration rules could make Ossoff’s task in the runoff much harder.
Georgia requires that anyone voting in the June 20 runoff have registered to vote by March 20—an extremely early deadline that could especially affect young people and newcomers to the area.
A federal lawsuit filed Thursday by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law charges that the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act, which bars a registration cutoff of longer than 30 days for federal elections.
Georgia does use a 30-day cutoff for the first round of the election, which took place Tuesday. At issue in the lawsuit is whether the NVRA requires a new 30-day-or-under deadline for the runoff.
Ezra Rosenberg of the Lawyers Committee says of course it does.
“Cutting off the registration period as Georgia does before a runoff election makes no sense, and deprives thousands of Georgians of the right to exercise their franchise,” Rosenberg said in a statement.
But Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican whose strict voting and registration policies have drawn the ire of voting rights advocates in the past—disagrees.
In a statement to The Daily Democracy, Kemp’s office said it would fight the lawsuit in court. The statement said Georgia law views the runoff as a continuation of the underlying election, and requires anyone voting in the runoff to have been qualified to vote in the first round. And it argued that the Constitution allows Georgia to set the qualification for voting, and that federal voting law can’t change that.
Kemp’s office said that changing the rules now “would put the integrity of the…runoff at great risk.”
In the runoff, Ossoff will face Republican Karen Handel, who came second in the first round. Handel has herself been criticized for imposing needless barriers to the ballot box, and seeming to use her post to benefit the GOP, when she served as secretary of state a decade ago.
A win for Ossoff in the GOP-leaning suburban Atlanta district would be an embarrassment for the White House, and would embolden Democrats about their prospects for next year’s congressional elections. The seat was previously held by Tom Price, a conservative Republican who now serves as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.