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Judge eases requirements under Georgia 'exact match' rule

A federal judge issued a ruling Friday removing barriers to voters flagged as noncitizens by Georgia's "exact match" rules, easing their ability to vote in next week's midterm election.

It's a victory for Democrats, who had worried the rule could keep some of their voters away from the polls during Tuesday's midterm elections. Democrats had been particularly worried the rule could hurt absentee and early voters from their party.

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They cast the decision as a win for Democrats and a defeat for the Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who is also the Republican candidate for governor.

“Another day, another major defeat for Brian Kemp’s voter suppression efforts," Rebecca DeHart, executive director for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement.

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Voting rights has become a major issue in Kemp's race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the nation's first African-American woman governor if she wins. The two are locked in a tight race.

Kemp's office largely shrugged off the decision. 

In a statement, Candice L. Broce, press secretary and staff attorney at the office, called it "a minor change to the current system."
 
Eleanor L. Ross, U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Georgia, ruled that if the exact match rules were kept in place, it could cause people with suspended voter registration applications “irreparable harm if they lose the right to vote.”
 
Ross is an appointee of former President Obama who took the position in 2013. 

The "exact match" law marks an applicant’s registration as “pending” if the personal information on their voter registration form doesn’t exactly match the information from the state's Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.  

If marked "pending," the applicant has 26 months to provide the accurate information.

Friday's decision will let people who have their applications "flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship," to vote on Nov. 6 if they provide proof of citizenship to a county registrar or poll manager, including a state driver's license even if expired, a state voter identification card or a U.S. passport.
 
Those with pending applications held up for "exact match" issues outside of citizenship already did not need a registrar to verify information before Friday's decision.
 
If proof cannot be provided on site, voters will be allowed to submit provisional ballots and provide the needed information to a registrar before the Friday after the election.

In a separate decision this week, another Georgia judge ruled that absentee ballot applications in violation of this rule could not be thrown out. 

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, praised the decision but stressed that there was still work to be done to ensure fair elections.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg of the sort of obstacles that are being placed in front of voters — disproportionately minority voters," she said. 
 
Broce said that in the decision earlier this week on absentee ballots, the judge had recognized that changing existing election procedures at the last minute would be a "terrible idea."
 
She said that in Friday's decision, Ross "acknowledged that Georgia already has a process in place to check citizenship at the polls."
 
She cast Ross's decision to allow poll managers to also participate in the verification process as a minor change.
 
--Updated at 6:42 p.m.