Gardner canceled any discussion of the challenge issue at the start of Wednesday’s hearing, when one of the defendants’ lawyers raised it, saying she would release a fuller explanation later and did not have the intention to clarify it during the substantive discussion. of the trial.
“This hearing is not about the recusal motion,” said Gardner, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Muscogee County officials formally requested Gardner’s recusal on Monday. She said in an interim restraining order Monday ending voter protests that she did not think her challenge was warranted, but has yet to give a detailed explanation.
The judge’s role in the case drew national attention and criticism from the main voices of the Republican Party.
“Stacey Abrams’ sister is the judge … nothing fishy here,” President Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. wrote on Twitter Wednesday morning. “If this were reversed, Democrats would cry out for recusal etc., but the GOP won’t because they are weak.”
Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the financial ties between the Abrams group and Majority Forward underscored Gardner’s need to recuse himself from the case.
“That a judge will rule on a case brought by a group heavily funded by his sister is very worrying,” Raffensperger said in a statement Tuesday.
The Majority Forward lawsuit alleges that the mass challenges violate federal voter registration law. But county lawyers argued on Wednesday that the challenges do not trigger this act because they focus solely on the right of voters to vote in upcoming polls and not their right to remain on the voters lists more generally.
However, Gardner seemed skeptical of this claim.
“This distinction that has been made, I do not understand it. … Do you find people who do not have the right to vote and you leave them on the electoral roll? Asked the judge.
Majority Forward lawyer Uzoma Nkwonta also argued that this notion was illusory.
“This distinction is simply untenable,” Nkownta said. “The distinction they’re trying to make here just doesn’t make sense.”
Gardner said she does not believe change of address data alone is a strong indication that voters have indeed moved from their legal residence. She also noted that in some states, people who apply for a driver’s license are automatically registered to vote and may not even know it.
“My concern here is, firstly, to rely on unreliable data and then put the burden on people” to respond and defend their tapes, the judge said. “We are also in the holiday season and we are facing a pandemic and I am very concerned about asking voters to prove that they are entitled to vote during this time.”
Gardner said she was trying to come to an agreement that voters would not be denied the right to vote based on postal data alone, but Nkwonta expressed concern that they might still be subject to a expensive process based on scarce or uncertain evidence.
However, the judge said the lawsuit focused on issues raised by the use of the mailing address change database. “You have not filed a complaint to say that no other reason is prohibited,” she said.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.