Judge blocks photography ban in Georgia’s new election law

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 judge noted that another Georgia law provides for a general ban on photography in a polling place during voting, meaning that it’s not legal to take a picture of a ballot in a polling place.

Thenew 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.

While the lawsuitfiled 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.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is a defendant in the lawsuit along with members of the State Election Board. He has repeatedly said he’s confident the new law will stand up to court challenges.

“This decision is a clear victory for Georgia voters and common-sense election integrity reforms,” he said in a statement.

Among the other provisions Boulee 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.

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