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Federal lawsuit aims to address ‘gross mismanagement’ of Georgia elections process

The lawsuit challenges the way elections are run in Georgia.

A political organization backed by Democrat Stacey Abrams has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s elections system, and asks a judge to address issues that Democrats say left thousands unable to vote in the midterm elections.

The lawsuit, against interim Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden and state election board members, was filed in Atlanta Tuesday morning by two groups -- Fair Fight Action and Care in Action.

It is the promise Abrams made to voters as she ended her campaign for governor, to sue Georgia for “gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”

“The Georgia election for governor is over, but citizens of Georgia deserve an elections system they have confidence in,” said Abrams’ former campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, during a press conference after the lawsuit was filed. Groh-Wargo now serves as CEO of Fair Fight Action. “We will show how lack of planning trampled on Georgians’ basic right to vote.”

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Over 40,000 people have reached out to the Abrams campaign and Fair Fight Action since election night, said Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, attorney and former campaign chairwoman for the Abrams campaign.

“We are seeking to address constitutional injuries for Georgians across the state. These widespread violations of federal law are a concern to everyone who values our Constitution,” Lawrence-Hardy said. “The heart of our Constitution is that each person gets a vote. That has to work for our Democracy to work.”

Groh-Wago said “the Abrams campaign is winding down” with Republican governor-elect Brian Kemp now in position to begin his term. She said Abrams is currently serving on the board of the Fair Fight Action Group as an advisor – but not in a leadership role.

“Stacey Abrams is not a plaintiff in this lawsuit,” Groh-Wago stressed. “We’re taking everything we’ve learned from the campaign … it needs to be focused on every Georgia citizen who could not vote. If it was one person, or 100,000 people – we need to fix this system.”

RELATED: Q&A with Stacey Abrams: What's next for the former candidate for governor

"“This week, Governor-elect Brian Kemp is meeting with public safety and economic development leaders," said Ryan Mahoney, the communications director for Georgians First Committee, Brian Kemp's transition team. "He is focused on building a safe and prosperous future for Georgia families."

Georgia GOP has not responded to 11Alive's request for comment. 

Election Day in Georgia was plagued with issues, from inoperable voting machines to a shortage of provisional ballots. Early voting had historic turnout, with some people waiting hours in line at polling stations statewide.

RELATED: TIMELINE: What has happened in the Georgia governor's race?

Care in Action Georgia is also named as a plaintiff in Tuesday’s lawsuit. Speaking on behalf of domestic workers across the state, Democratic Senator Nikema Williams said countless people “suffered at the hands of the Secretary of State” because they could not afford to stand in line to vote.

“They have jobs to work, families to care for and other responsibilities,” Williams said. “Many people had trouble taking time off to vote and cure any provisional ballot issues. This is not indicative of who we are.  Your zip code, gender or income level should not determine if a vote is counted.”

Williams was one of over a dozen protesters arrested inside the State Capitol rotunda to protest the midterm election.

RELATED: State senator Nikema Williams among protestors arrested at Capitol rotunda

“We want to make sure voters don’t face these issues ever again,” Williams said. “We want to make sure every vote counts in 2020, 2022 and beyond.”

Groh-Wago said the group is not asking for any sort of financial restitution with this lawsuit, rather, they want to see paper ballots and properly-calibrated voting machines that cannot be hacked. The group is also seeking to end voter purging and Georgia’s “use it or lose it” law, which removes potential voters from the system if they do not vote within a certain amount of time.

She also cited security issues with voter information, after former Secretary of State Brian Kemp released thousands of names and addresses of voters on the Secretary of State's website during the election.

The group said it plans to tell stories of Georgians across the state who weren’t able to vote, whether due to issues with absentee ballots, provisional votes or long lines at polling locations.

RELATED: Voting lawsuits may yield new election laws

“We need properly trained elected officials and proper directives on how to navigate the system,” Groh-Wago said. “There were not enough voting machines. Everyone knew this would be a historic turnout. We need to meet the criteria of the Vote Act. Our lawsuit says [the midterm election] placed undue burden on low-income people, persons of color and all Georgians.”

Abrams ended her bid to become the first black female state governor in U.S. history 10 days after the election, insisting that efforts to suppress voter turnout left thousands of ballots uncounted.

RELATED: Stacey Abrams steps out of governor's race after weeks of lawsuits, ballot counts

Kemp, who served as Secretary of State while running for governor, is described in the lawsuit as the “chief architect of these voting barriers.”

According to official results certified on Nov. 17, Kemp led the race with 50.2 percent, while Abrams got 48.8 percent of the vote. Libertarian Ted Mertz claimed less than 1 percent of the over 3.9 million ballots cast across the state.

Groh-Wago said the lawsuit seeks to hold “all elected officials accountable,” including Kemp.

“Part of our role in the new year will be to ensure no bad bills are brought to the legislature to curtail people’s right to vote,” she said. “We need to ensure positive steps are taken to remedy the situation here in Georgia.”

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