Timothy Batten Judge Timothy Batten, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
Handout photo.

A federal judge signed a consent order Tuesday concluding a voting rights challenge in Georgia that has drawn national attention because of a proposed earlier registration deadline before a hotly contested congressional election runoff.

In the end, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp agreed not to impose voting registration deadlines earlier than those set by federal law 30 days before an election, according to an order signed by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Batten Sr. of the Northern District of Georgia.

Civil rights advocates filed the lawsuit in April after the secretary of state tried to impose a voter registration deadline for the special election for the Sixth District runoff. That would have cut off registration two months earlier than the 30 days the federal law allows. But Batten issued a preliminary injunction opening up registration.

Batten’s order also said the secretary will also have to pay “reasonable attorney fees and costs” for the plaintiffs, which include: the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta Inc., Third Sector Development Inc. (parent of the New Georgia Project) and ProGeorgia State Table Inc.

Kemp did not have an immediate response, according to a spokesman who said he would try to contact the secretary about the order.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers celebrated. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and its pro bono counsel, Hogan Lovells and the Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, sent out a news release claiming victory, as did the Georgia NAACP.

“This consent agreement ensures that eligible Georgians will not be unfairly cut off from registering to vote and participating in federal runoff elections because of an arbitrary state voter registration deadline that violates federal law,” said Julie Houk, senior special counsel in the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Voter registration should not be impeded by a deadline that serves no purpose other than to disenfranchise eligible Georgians. With the consent agreement reached today, we have taken down one troubling method of vote suppression.”

“It is very gratifying that the state has recognized that federal law requires keeping the voter registration rolls open until 30 days before any federal election,” said Ira Feinberg, a partner at Hogan Lovells. “Federal and state laws ought to encourage all eligible voters to register and vote, not impose arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on voter participation.”

“This is a step forward for all Georgia voters, who will now have more opportunity to participate in important runoff elections,” said Sells, who served as local counsel in the case.

“This consent order is the latest in a string of victories the NAACP has achieved in securing the rights of voters,” said NAACP interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “We have succeeded in reversing what was obviously a blatant attempt to curb thousands of votes by disregarding national law.”

“The NAACP is ecstatic over the court order granting full relief in the voter registration runoff case,” said Phyllis Blake, the NAACP’s Georgia State Conference president. “We will continue to remind citizens of their rights to register and vote in runoff elections. Kudos to the Lawyers Committee, our partner for their successful litigation.”

The case is Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. State of Georgia and Brian Kemp, No. 1:17cv01427-TCB.