Federal judge rejects Trump ally’s bid to block election certification in Georgia

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Another bid by an ally of President Donald Trump to overturn the results of this month’s election was roundly rejected in court on Thursday, as a federal judge appointed by Trump turned down a bid to block the certification of President-elect Joe Biden as the victor in Georgia.

At the conclusion of a three-hour virtual hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Steven Grimberg delivered a withering assessment of the suit that a prominent attorney, Lin Wood, filed to try to stop officials from finalizing a tally that has Trump trailing Biden by more than 12,000 votes.

Grimberg said it was clear that, as an individual voter, Wood lacked legal standing to mount the challenge to Georgia’s election procedures. But the judge — a former prosecutor whom Trump nominated last year — also emphasized that evidence of improprieties seemed limited to isolated cases and far short of what would be needed to justify a federal judge stepping in to alter the state’s election results.

“It would require halting the certification of results in a state election in which millions of people have voted,” the judge said. “It would interfere with an election after the voting was done.”

The judge also seemed to allude to the acrimonious atmosphere surrounding the election as a reason to be wary about interfering in the process as Wood requested.

“It harms the public interest in countless ways, particularly in the environment in which this election occurred,” Grimberg said. “To halt the certification at literally the 11th hour would breed confusion and potentially disenfranchisement that I find has no basis in fact or in law.”

Much of Wood’s suit complained about a consent decree, reached in March, that requires officials to try to contact a voter before disqualifying a mail-in ballot because of a signature that does not appear to match the one on file.

However, Russ Willard, a lawyer in the Georgia attorney general’s office, said there was no legitimate reason for Wood to come to court eight months later to object to that widely publicized deal.

“Plaintiff attempts to change the rules at the end of the game in order to alter the score,” Willard said

Grimberg agreed on that account, too, saying that the unreasonable delay cut against Wood’s request for a restraining order. But the judge’s ruling did offer a glimmer of hope for Trump backers. He said he might have viewed the suit differently if it had been brought by the Trump campaign itself or even by the Republican Party.

“Neither the Republican Party nor the Trump campaign nor any other candidate has joined this lawsuit,” the judge said. “That certainly would have changed the analysis when it comes to standing.”

Wood quickly vowed an appeal, but Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has also signaled that the campaign may file its own federal lawsuit in Georgia as soon as Friday.

Some of the claims Wood put forward as evidence of fraud or malfeasance during the hearing on Thursday seemed to disintegrate under close scrutiny.

Wood’s attorney Ray Smith said that the percentage of mail-in votes rejected by election officials dropped sharply in the recent election, suggesting that authorities were overlooking fraud and errors now that would have been caught in the past.

But Willard said the change reflected the fact that after elections in 2018, the Georgia Legislature eliminated some requirements for absentee ballots, including the rule that such voters had to write their dates of birth on the return envelope. Many were reluctant to do that for privacy reasons, so they left it blank, he said. This year, there was no such requirement, so those rejections were not an issue.

An audit of the election results that officials completed on Thursday led to Trump closing the gap with Biden by about 2,000 votes, but still outside of striking range.

The Trump campaign did score a modest win in Pennsylvania on Thursday evening as a state appeals court panel ruled, 2-1, in favor of a Republican candidate’s bid to disqualify 2,349 mail-in ballots in the Pittsburgh area that lacked a date next to the voter’s signature.

That ruling could be appealed further to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. If upheld, it could lower Biden’s vote total, but doesn’t seem like a path for Trump to overcome the roughly 81,000-vote lead that Biden has in the state.

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