U.S. voting rights trampled in Georgia governor's race: lawsuit

By Letitia Stein

(Reuters) - Advocates for Democrat Stacey Abrams filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday alleging far-reaching U.S. voting rights violations during the Georgia governor's contest she lost this month to a Republican who ran the election as secretary of state.

Abrams, who sought to become the nation's first female African-American governor, pledged to fight for electoral changes after a protracted vote count saw Brian Kemp win the race by little more than 1 percent of nearly 4 million votes cast.

Kemp resigned as secretary of state after the Nov. 6 election.

The lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action, a voting advocacy group headed by Abrams' campaign manager, said state election officials "grossly mismanaged an election that deprived Georgia citizens, and particularly citizens of color, of their fundamental right to vote."

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court, cited issues from sweeping purges of the voter rolls to shuttered precincts, voting equipment failures and late absentee ballots.

It highlighted stories of voters who said they were turned away from polls under state requirements that their personal information on voter applications match state databases exactly. Many voters also experienced long waits at polling places that lacked sufficient provisional ballots as backup.

Black and minority voters were disproportionately disenfranchised, the lawsuit said. It said 70 percent of the voters whose registrations were pending over the "exact match" policy before the election were black, although African-Americans account for about one-third of the population.

The main defendant in the lawsuit is Georgia's interim Secretary of State, Robyn Crittenden. Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the office, said on Tuesday: "We remain committed to secure, accessible and fair elections for all voters.”

Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Kemp spokesman Ryan Mahoney said the governor-elect was "focused on building a safe and prosperous future for Georgia families.”

The lawsuit asks the courts to recognize that voting rights under the U.S. Constitution and federal law were violated, and to help prevent problems in future elections.

"Your ZIP code, your race, your gender or your income level should not determine if your vote is counted," state Senator Nikema Williams said at a news conference. She is the state director of Care in Action, a group advocating for domestic workers that joined the lawsuit.

While Abrams was not named as a plaintiff, the lawsuit drew on more than 40,000 calls to a campaign hotline that documented problems at the polls, the plaintiffs' attorney said.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Sonya Hepinstall)