Judge blocks photography ban in Georgia's new election law

·3 min read

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge has found that a part of Georgia's sweeping new election law that broadly prohibits the photographing of a voted ballot is likely unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee on Friday granted a preliminary injunction on that section of the law, meaning it cannot be enforced for now. In the same order, he declined to block a number of other provisions that mostly have to do with monitoring or photographing parts of the election process.

The judge's order came in a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, an election integrity group, and others. Boulee wrote that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit “have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim” that the broad ban on photographing a voted ballot in both public and nonpublic places violates their First Amendment rights.

The new law, known as SB 202, also adds a voter ID requirement for mail ballots, shortens the time period for requesting a mail ballot, results in fewer ballot drop boxes available in metro Atlanta and gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials.

There are currently eight federal lawsuits challenging parts of the 98-page law enacted earlier this year, including one filed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The Court’s striking of the Photography Ban was an important first step in demonstrating that SB202 is an overreach by lawmakers who prefer ballots to be counted behind closed doors, blocking the important oversight of the press and public,” Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance said in a statement.

The office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who's a defendant in the lawsuit along with the members of the State Election Board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. But he has previously said he's confident the new law will withstand court challenges.

While the lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Good Governance challenges many aspects of the law, including the part that allows the State Election Board to remove county election superintendents, the request for preliminary injunction that was the subject of Boulee's ruling was relatively narrow.

It argued that the provisions in question criminalize normal election observation activities. Lawyers for the state had argued those parts of the law reinforce previous protections and are necessary for election integrity.

Boulee declined to block another photography provision that prohibits the photographing or recording of the face of a touchscreen voting machine while someone is voting or while a voter's selections are displayed.

Among the other provisions he declined to block are ones that: prohibit people from intentionally observing a person who's voting in a way that would allow the observer to see the voter's choices; require that absentee ballots be requested at least 11 days before an election; and prohibit observers from communicating any information they see during absentee ballot processing to anyone other than election officials.

Kate Brumback, The Associated Press

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