Senior Judge Louis Sands of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A federal judge in Albany has ordered Dougherty County election officials to wait until Tuesday to certify the results of the Nov. 6 elections after the Democratic Party of Georgia sued to make sure all the ballots could be counted.

Dougherty officials had planned to certify the election results Friday, but lawyers for the party and the campaign of Democratic candidate Stacy Abrams argued that large numbers of absentee ballots were likely to go uncounted in the county, which was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and where a legal challenge by a down-ticket candidate delayed the issuance of ballots.

Echoing the party’s concerns that a “confluence of extraordinary circumstances” threatened to invalidate ballots by voters who “acted diligently to request and mail their absentee ballots but whose ballots were still rejected due to no fault of their own,” Senior Judge W. Louis Sands of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia ruled that any ballot postmarked by Nov. 6 and received by Nov. 9 must be counted.

Given that Monday is Veterans Day, a state holiday, he extended the time for counting those ballots to Tuesday, Nov. 13.

During a press conference at Abrams’ headquarters Thursday, Summerville Firm attorney Kurt Kastorf said the county faced an “incredible backlog” of uncounted absentee ballots that were delayed.

That afternoon, he and co-counsel Allegra Lawrence-Hardy of Lawrence & Bundy and Dara Lindenbaum of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock filed for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The complaint said the voters of Dougherty County “received several weeks less time to return their ballots than voters in other counties, and in some cases have received so little time that voting absentee was de facto impossible, despite that Georgia provides for ‘no excuse’ absentee voting.”

The action named the Dougherty County elections superintendent and board as defendants.

In granting the injunction, Sands said that the defendants “did not contest that some voters were, in fact, harmed by the late mailing of the absentee ballots, and accordingly consent to the relief requested by the Democratic Party of Georgia.”

In an ironic twist, the federal court’s assignment system first sent the case to Abrams’ sister, Judge Leslie Abrams, before it was transferred to Sands.

Kastorf said Friday that Sands’ order “is both a major victory and a small first step.”

“It is a major victory because the right to vote is the foundational democratic right—the right from which all other freedoms stem. And each time an eligible voter’s ballot is allowed to count, democracy wins,” he said.

“It is a small first step because the secretary of state’s oversight of this election has repeatedly demonstrated to the nation that voting rights remain a work in progress in Georgia,” Kastorf said.

“The Democratic Party is continuing to receive an endless stream of calls into its voter protection hotlines about voting irregularities, and both Stacey Abrams and the party plan to continue to fight to ensure that every eligible voter who chooses to participate in the election has their vote count,” he said.

Ryan Mahoney, a spokesman for the self-declared governor-elect, Brian Kemp, blasted the suit Friday as a “desperate ploy by the Abrams team to steal the election and undermine the will of the people [that] fell short in Dougherty County.

“Roughly 50 absentee ballots that arrive by end of day today but were post-marked by Election Day will be counted,” said Mahoney via email. “As we have said since election night, it is mathematically impossible for Stacey Abrams to force a run-off or a recount. This ruling doesn’t change that reality. Brian Kemp won this race and is Governor-Elect of Georgia. The people of Georgia have spoken, Stacey Abrams should listen to them and concede immediately.”

Kastorf said Spencer Lee represented Dougherty County. He could not be reached late Friday afternoon.

Jonathan Ringel contributed to this article.