Lawyer: Too late for Georgia to change maps for mid-sessions

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It is essentially already too late to make the changes demanded by the lawsuits challenging Georgia’s new congressional and law maps ahead of this year’s midterm elections, an attorney for state officials said on Wednesday.

Governor Brian Kemp signed the new maps of congressional and state legislative districts on December 30. Three lawsuits challenging the cards were immediately filed that day, and two more have since been filed by individual voters, voting rights groups and other organizations. .

Advocates for these critics of the new cards have dismissed the idea that January is too late to make any changes when the general election is not held until November.

The lawsuits argue that the new cards unduly reduce the voting power of black voters and other voters of color. Two of the lawsuits argue that the cards violate the U.S. Constitution, while the others focus on alleged violations of federal voting rights law.

The timing, competence and desirability of consolidating the cases were among the issues discussed in a hearing on Wednesday attended by three judges and a dozen lawyers.

The 2022 election cycle effectively begins Thursday when candidates and their supporters can begin circulating nomination petitions, said attorney Bryan Tyson, who represents the various state officials named in the lawsuits. In addition, he said, the secretary of state’s office told county officials they needed to get all constituency changes entered into the voter registration system by February 18 to avoid cause problems with the qualification of candidates, which begins on March 7, and other preparations for the month of May. 24 primary.

With these processes already underway based on the cards signed by the governor, argued Tyson, it is fundamentally too late to make changes for the 2022 cycle. Instead, he said, the elections of this year are expected to be organized using the new maps and any changes that are ultimately required as a result of the lawsuits can be implemented for the 2024 electoral cycle.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones pointed out that the Georgia General Assembly is currently in session and may change dates if necessary. Kevin Hamilton, a lawyer who filed two of the lawsuits on behalf of individual voters, noted that the court may also order changes to the dates.

It is “a little surprising” to hear the state say it is too late to correct cards that include violations of the voting rights law, Hamilton said. That’s a bit “inconsistent” given that the governor waited around 40 days to sign the cards after they were passed by state lawmakers in a special legislative session in November, he argued.

By law, constitutional claims raised in two of the lawsuits must be heard by a panel of three judges. Among the questions for judges to resolve is whether the panel also has jurisdiction over other lawsuits that only raise claims under the Voting Rights Act or whether those lawsuits should be heard by the one of the judges alone. Judges must also decide on the timing and whether some or all of the prosecutions can be grouped together to streamline the process.

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