A federal judge on Thursday ordered Georgia to reopen voter registration before the June run-off for the open House seat in the sixth district, a move that will allow more eligible citizens to participate in the election.
On Monday, Republican candidate Karen Handel told her supporters that the “partisan” decision will “boil your blood.”
In a fundraising email, Handel — who will face off against Democrat Jon Ossoff in June — called the ruling by U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten, a George W. Bush appointee, a “partisan attempt to change the rules… for a nakedly partisan outcome.”
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and four other voting rights organization who argued the 90-day cut off for registration before the run-off violated the National Voter Registration Act. That law states that all eligible citizens should be allowed to vote if they register at least 30 days before an election.
In his ruling, Judge Batten agreed with the plaintiffs.
“If a preliminary injunction is not granted requiring defendants to process voter-registration applications received after the previous deadline of March 20, numerous voters who would otherwise be eligible to vote in the runoff will be denied that right,” he wrote.
While higher voter turnout would likely be beneficial for Democrats in Georgia’s sixth district, extending the registration period will allow for both Republican and Democratic-leaning constituencies to make sure they are registered ahead of the run-off, which just became the most expensive House race in U.S. history.
Sacha Haworth, a spokesperson for Ossoff’s campaign, told ThinkProgress that Handel’s decision to call the ruling “partisan” is not surprising.
“Karen Handel has a long track record of putting her personal political agenda above the public interest, and here she goes again,” Haworth said.
Handel’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was named in the lawsuit, said Thursday that he will comply with the court’s order and temporarily reopen voter registration until May 21.
The June run-off between Ossoff, a first-time candidate, and Handel, formerly Georgia’s secretary of state, is expected to be close. A recent poll found Handel with a slight lead, but within the margin of error. For Ossoff to pull off an upset and flip the district, voter turnout will be critical, especially among the growing Latino and black populations in the district.
According to The Nation’s Ari Berman, “voter registration is surging in Georgia — 464,000 more people have registered this year than during the last non-presidential-election year.” And Ossoff’s campaign has said it is registering more than a hundred new voters a day.
“Voting rights are constitutional rights,” Ossoff said in response to Thursday’s court ruling. “I encourage all eligible voters to ensure that they are registered and make their voices heard on June 20th and in all elections, regardless of their party or political persuasion.”
Handel, who previously ran Georgia’s elections, is herself a pioneering vote suppressor. Shortly before the 2008 election, she spearheaded an illegal purge of Georgia’s rolls and flagged thousands of voter registrations as potential non-citizens. Many of the voters affected were actually eligible American citizens.