Stacey Abrams' Sister Stokes New Controversy in Fraught Georgia Senate Vote

A temporary restraining order issued by Georgia Federal Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner on Monday against a Republican attempt to remove some voters from the rolls ahead of the special Senate elections in January has caused controversy. Judge Gardner is the sister of Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who founded the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight.

Georgia's electoral process has come under close scrutiny on both the national and local levels. President Donald Trump claimed he won the state's presidential election despite multiple ballot recounts, all of which showed Biden to be the victor. In January, Georgia is expected to hold a special election for two Senate seats. The results of that election will determine which party gains control of the Senate. While Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud have so far been unsubstantiated, some small cases of voting irregularities in Georgia have been reported.

In December, Muscogee County Republican Party Chairman Ralph Russell challenged the residential qualifications of 4,033 voters. Russell alleged in his filing that those individuals had moved "to a location outside of Muscogee County, removed to another state with the intention of making the new state their residence." Russell claimed that those voters were not eligible to vote in the January runoff elections.

The Democratic challenge to Russell's filing came from Majority Forward, a voting advocacy group that claimed that Russell had used incorrect change of address from the U.S. Postal Service to back up his allegations. Judge Gardner sided with the Democratic group, allowing the voters named in Russell's lawsuit to cast ballots in the January election.

"While the court acknowledges that an injunction may burden defendants in their role managing the ongoing election," Gardner ruled, "the harm to voters whose right to vote is wrongfully impeded or denied is far greater."

In a Monday statement, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger called Gardner's ruling a "direct attack on rule of law in Georgia and the integrity of elections in this state." Raffensperger alleged that Gardner ignored aspects of Georgia's election laws that could have worked in favor of the Republicans in her ruling.

According to Roll Call, Majority Forward is the non-profit arm of the Democrat-affiliated Senate Majority PAC. Fair Fight, the organization founded by Abrams, donated $2.5 million to Senate Majority PAC. Raffensperger drew a connection between Abram's financial activities and Gardner's ruling.

stacey abrams connected to sister's ruling
A Monday decision in favor of a Democrat advocacy group in an election lawsuit by Georgia Judge Leslie Gardner, the sister of high-profile Democrat Stacey Abrams, has drawn criticism because of the relationship between the two. Jessica McGowan/Getty

"That a judge would rule on a case brought by a group heavily funded by her sister is very concerning," Raffensperger added.

Because of her connection to Abrams, Gardner was asked to recuse herself from the case by Republicans in Muscogee County and Ben Hill County, which was also affected by Gardner's ruling. According to the recusal request, Abrams' involvement with several voting lawsuits gave her "a clear interest in the outcome of this proceeding" allowing outside observers to "entertain significant doubt about Judge Gardner's partiality under the circumstances."

Newsweek reached out to Fair Fight for comment.

Gardner declined to recuse herself from the case despite being given the opportunity to do so. "The Court has reviewed the motion and finds no basis for recusal," Gardner wrote. "An Order detailing the Court's reasoning is forthcoming."

Despite being members of the same political party, Trump has criticized Raffensperger for how Georgia conducts its elections. In December, Trump tweeted that if Republican incumbent Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost the election, Raffensperger would be among those "solely responsible." Trump also referred to Raffensperger, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan as "RINOS [Republicans In Name Only]."

Trump also took aim at Georgia election officials after he lost the state to Biden. In a manual recount of ballots in November, more than 3,000 ballots were discovered that had not been tallied in the original tabulation. However, not enough ballots were discovered to change the election results.

Appearing at a December campaign event in support of Loeffler and Perdue, Trump warned that the Senate election could be the subject of manipulation. "They cheated and they rigged our presidential election but we will still win it," Trump told the crowd. "And they're going to try to rig this election too."