Judge rules True the Vote's mass voter challenges in Georgia are not illegal voter intimidation

Fulton County Georgia elections workers process absentee ballots for the Senate runoff election in Atlanta on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

This story was updated at 7:27 p.m.

A federal judge has found that the conservative group True the Vote did not illegally intimidate voters when they helped challenge the eligibility of tens of thousands of Georgia voters.

The federal Voting Rights Act prohibits efforts to intimidate, threaten or coerce anyone against voting.

But U.S. District Judge Steve Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, ruled Tuesday that the Georgians who sued over the mass challenges had not “sufficiently shown that any Georgia voter was reasonably intimidated.”

During Georgia’s 2021 Senate runoff, the Texas-based group challenged the registrations of some 250,000 voters. 

Most challenges were dismissed, but they overwhelmed election offices and tripped up voters, who in some cases had to appear in person in front of their local election board to prove their eligibility.

Courtney Davis said her mother’s vote was challenged in 2022.

“What if my mom didn’t have me to advocate for her?” Davis said at a press conference last year hosted by Fair Fight, the voting rights group that brought the lawsuit. “How many others would fall into her category that receive a similar letter and they just gave up?”

In 2021, Republican state lawmakers in Georgia affirmed individuals’ right to file unlimited challenges as part of an overhaul of state election law. Section 230 of the Georgia code outlines the procedures for voter challenges.

Even so, the judge found that True the Votes’ methods for identifying potentially ineligible voters “verges on recklessness.”

“As the federal court weighed the evidence presented about True the Vote’s tactics in the 2021 runoff elections, it did not hold back its criticisms of the Texas group’s methods,” Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, counsel for the plaintiffs, wrote in a statement. “To the contrary, the 145-page opinion expressly states the Court ‘in no way is condoning TTV’s actions in facilitating a mass number of seemingly frivolous challenges.’”

True the Vote, which has touted baseless election fraud claims, says the ruling affirms citizens have the right to petition the government for election integrity, suggesting the mass challenges are likely to continue in 2024.

“This decision is monumental,” True the Vote lead attorney Jake Evans wrote in a statement. “It vindicates True the Vote in totality and establishes that eligibility challenges under Section 230 are a proper method to ensure voter rolls are accurate.”

But Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Fair Fight, warned that since 2020, other groups have engineered similar efforts across the country also based on false claims of widespread election fraud in 2020.

“Efforts by conspiracy theorists and anti-voter extremists to strip eligible voters from the rolls through mass voter challenges and aggressive voter purges are one of the biggest threats to our democracy and upcoming elections in 2024,” she wrote.