By Beau Evans
A federal judge tossed a lawsuit Thursday seeking to block the presidential election results in Georgia from being certified in a hearing that pitted attorneys for a firebrand supporter of President Donald Trump against a surprising tag-team of Republican and Democratic defendants.
The suit, brought by Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, sought a restraining order to halt the results’ certification and compel another hand recount of Georgia’s more-than 5 million ballots, despite the fact a hand recount was done as part of an expanded audit of the results over the past week.
U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg dismissed the case after a nearly three-hour hearing in which he found Wood brought no real evidence or proof that he had been harmed by alleged issues with Georgia’s election system.
“To halt the certification at literally the 11th hour would breed confusion and potential disenfranchisement that I find has no basis in fact or in law,” said Grimberg, who is a Trump appointee.
Attorneys representing Wood alleged outside monitors were kept too much at arms-length from observing the recount and took aim at a recent legal settlement making it tougher to reject absentee ballots due to invalid signatures.
Citing several sworn statements, Wood’s suit argued the stricter signature-verification rules made it impossible to tell whether mail-in votes were cast fraudulently, prompting the need for a new recount to involve scrutinizing signatures on absentee ballot envelopes.
But lawyers from often at-odds parties representing both Republican and Democratic sides took turns criticizing Wood’s lawsuit at a hearing Thursday, rejecting both its legal merits and framing it as an ominous attempt to disenfranchise Georgia voters.
“The election is over, and rather than accept that his preferred candidate has lost, [Wood] seeks the largest disenfranchisement of eligible electors since the abolition of the poll tax and other vestiges of Jim Crow in the state of Georgia,” said Russ Willard, an attorney representing Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr’s office.
Attorneys for Carr and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both prominent Georgia Republicans, were joined by legal teams for the Democratic Party of Georgia and the NAACP’s Georgia chapter, marking an unusual cast of co-defendants attempting to defeat a Trump-backed suit.
“Your Honor, [Wood] literally seeks to strip millions of Georgians, each one an American citizen, of their right to vote … [and] that’s simply astonishing,” said Kevin Hamilton, an attorney representing the state Democratic Party.
Wood’s attorney, Ray Smith brushed off attacks on the suit as lacking real evidence, arguing in court Thursday that his case “provided a lot of testimony as well as almost 15 affidavits” to show Georgia’s recount was conducted in the shadows.
“We believe we’ve got lots of evidence,” Smith said.
Much of that evidence hung on witness testimony from Susan Voyles, a 20-year election worker from Sandy Springs and active Republican who claimed she counted dozens of mail-in ballots that aroused suspicions of fraud due to their unusually “pristine” condition.
Willard, representing the attorney general’s office, chalked up that testimony as well as the suit’s challenging of beefed-up rules for signature verification set in March as baseless and desperate.
“[The] plaintiff has adopted a scattershot approach … to try to clothes-hook as many constitutional claims as possible in order to get relief,” Willard said.
The judge agreed, noting especially that Wood’s allegations of poor access to the recount for outside monitors was moot since constitutional due-process rights likely do not extend to election observers.
“Monitoring an audit in an election is not a constitutional right,” Grimberg said. “Monitoring an election is not a life, is not a liberty and is not a property.”
Grimberg also cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s admonition for judges not to “meddle” with the power of state election officials to conduct federal elections, particularly when asked to do so by just a single voter like Wood.
The judge did, however, leave the door open for Trump and the Republican Party to join the lawsuit and boost its chances for possible future success, noting the president’s absence in the suit as the losing candidate in the election was “extremely significant.”
“That would have certainly changed the analysis when it comes to standing,” Grimberg said.
Thursday’s hearing came as Raffensperger’s office hustled to wrap up and release results of the nearly weeklong hand recount. Certification of Georgia’s election results are due Friday.