Parties brace for war over voter registrations in Ga. Senate race
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Georgia's tight Senate race could be headed for the courtroom after voters head to the ballot box. 

A state judge ruled earlier this week against civil rights groups seeking to force the Georgia secretary of State to account for roughly 40,000 voter registrations that were filed but allegedly haven't shown up on the voting rolls. Those voters could have a big impact on the tight open seat contest between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue. 

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That initial ruling raises the possibility of further post-election legal action — and is likely to increase the number of potential provisional ballots, the type of votes that get fought over in court in close elections.

Civil rights groups are vowing to fight to make sure every new voter they helped register gets their vote counted after next Tuesday. And both parties are quietly preparing for chaos in close races like the current deadlocked battle, where the results could be fought out in the courts as well as in a runoff.

At issue are a large chunk of the more than 100,000 new voters registered by the state NAACP and the New Georgia Project, a nonpartisan group focused on registering African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic voters.

The legal wrangling is officially nonpartisan, as was the voter registration drive, but both have clear racial and political overtones. The head of the New Georgia Project is Georgia state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), an African-American and close friend of Nunn’s, while Georgia’s secretary of State is white Republican Brian Kemp. 

“The only recourse the judge has allowed for these voters is provisional ballots and it's our mission to make sure every provisional ballot cast is counted,” Abrams told The Hill. “My focus as head of the New Georgia Project is making sure that every provisional vote that's cast that's valid is counted and if it means going to court to do that we will certainly do that.”

Others agree that legal fights could be in the offing, both because of these voters and the large number of other newly registered voters in the state. Newly registered voters are more likely to have problems with their registrations and have to vote provisionally more often. As both Nunn and Perdue aim for an outright victory in the close race, every vote will count.

“There will be some sort of tussle if it's close,” said one Georgia Democrat. “The conditions make it more likely there will be increased numbers of provisional ballots. 

Georgia’s politics have often broken down on racial lines, and part of the reason both Nunn and gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter (D) are so competitive this year is the fast growth in the state’s minority populations — and Democrats’ attempts to capitalize on that demographic shift by registering and turning out new voters. And while Kemp and Abrams have sought to avoid discussing the case in overtly racial or political terms, others haven’t been as quiet. 

“A Republican-appointed judge has backed the Republican Secretary of State to deny the right to vote to a largely African American and Latino population. It is outrageous that Georgians’ rights are being ignored,” Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement following Judge Christopher Brasher’s decision earlier this week.

Abrams and Kemp have been increasingly at odds during the process. Kemp launched an investigation into whether the New Georgia Project was committing voter fraud earlier this year, though that investigation produced just 51 potential forgeries out of the more than 80,000 applications the group submitted. Abrams and her allies believe his office has been dragging its feet on adding the newly registered voters to the rolls because they lean Democratic.

“I don't see any urgency from him and from his office,” Abrams says. “Registration is nonpartisan. Voting is very partisan, and if a party decides they can't market themselves to that group that's their problem, and it's a failure of their politics and their policies.”

Kemp denies that the voters aren’t on the rolls in the first place, calling the lawsuit “totally frivolous.”

“The claim that there are 40,000 missing or unprocessed voter registration applications is absolutely false,” he said in a statement. “The counties have processed all of the voter registration applications that they received for the General Election.”

His office downplays any worries about an unusually large number of provisional ballots.

“Any valid voter registration application that came into either our office or the counties has been processed and they will be able to vote in this election, and anybody who's not on the rolls can certainly cast a provisional ballot and will be able to verify any missing information,” secretary of State spokesman Jared Thomas told The Hill. “We're anticipating a very smooth election.”

Neither Nunn’s nor Perdue’s campaigns want to talk about the potential of a recount or other legal challenges, though both Democrats and Republicans have been quietly preparing for months to deal with problems at the polls. Democrats have been especially focused on the issue — the Democratic National Committee’s Voter Expansion Project has been working since early this year to ensure that their base voters wouldn’t have trouble voting.

Nunn and Perdue have been deadlocked in public polling, while Carter has been within reach of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) too. In both races, if neither candidate reaches 50 percent outright because of third parties they will go to a runoff, further complicating the potential for legal action as fights over provisional ballots would eat into the month allotted for the governor’s race and nine weeks for the Senate race. 

“Provisional ballots are just wrought with peril,” one Georgia Democrat told The Hill. 

Republicans are also keeping a close eye on the court wrangling, though it’ll likely be Democrats and civil rights groups who have to do the heavy lifting to get their voters counted.

“Litigation is always something you fear in terms of the outcome of an election. We had it in the presidential race in 2000,” Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonTrump signs Veterans Affairs bill at New Jersey golf club No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight Savings through success in foreign assistance MORE (R-Ga.) told The Hill last week, before the judge’s decision came out. “You've obviously got a couple of matters out there in Georgia where there's the potential for a lawsuit. Attorneys don't need a reason to sue, they need a client to pay. You just try and make sure everything clears up as best as it can.”