ATLANTA (AP) — Days before the midterm elections, a state judge declined Tuesday to act in a dispute over 56,000 voter registration applications in one of the nation's most politically charged states.
The NAACP and voter advocacy groups accused elections officials of not processing applications quickly enough, a situation they say could lead to citizens not having their votes counted on Nov. 4, when Georgia voters will try to settle competitive races for U.S. Senate and governor.
Fulton County Judge Christopher Brasher ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs failed to prove that election authorities haven't followed the law, even if the would-be voters have yet to show up on the state's official list of eligible electors.
Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp and authorities in several majority Democratic counties say they are still processing the applications. And they've argued that any citizen can cast a provisional ballot, a contention the plaintiffs mock as insufficient.
Kemp, who is running for re-election, celebrated the ruling, repeating his assertion that the suit is "frivolous."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Tuesday they were considering appeals, possibly an immediate request to the Georgia Supreme Court. They still seek an order compelling election officials to confirm every applicant's registration or explain any denials in writing, giving a citizen the opportunity to fix any application errors.
"The inadequate remedy of a provisional ballot should disturb every Georgian who values the right to vote," said Stacey Abrams, a Democratic state lawmaker and leader of the New Georgia Project, one of the plaintiffs.
Abrams' group is officially non-partisan, but the case centered on young voters and non-whites seen as more likely to support Democrats. And her organization makes no secret of its part in Democrats' strategy to capitalize on demographic shifts and make Georgia another Southern battleground alongside North Carolina and Virginia.
Immediate beneficiaries would be U.S. Senate nominee Michelle Nunn, whose race against Republican David Perdue will help decide which major party controls the Senate in January, and state Sen. Jason Carter, the former president's grandson who is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. Those outcomes will help determine whether Georgia is truly a contested state in the 2016 presidential election.
Aside from those national stakes, the lawsuit continues the bitterness between Kemp and Abrams.
Earlier in the campaign, Kemp publicly launched an investigation of the New Georgia Project, alleging that some of its application forms were fraudulent. At the time Abrams' group sued, the state had established that 50 forms — less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 86,000 collected — were forged or otherwise fraudulent.
Abrams said the disputes highlight broader problems with the entire registration system. She expressed disappointment that Brasher leaned on elections laws that set specific registration deadlines for voters, but doesn't establish deadlines for the state and county officials who run the elections.
Brasher, a Republican appointee, acknowledged in a hearing Friday that the law places more specific burdens on citizens. But he told the parties that his job was to decide whether authorities had violated the law.
Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP