Election officials in Georgia say a federal judge's recent order to preserve voting machines at the request of attorney Sidney Powell, an ally of President Donald Trump, has the potential to "significantly hinder" their preparations for rapidly-approaching runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate.
Powell is the lead lawyer on a number of federal lawsuits arguing that President Trump's election loss should be reversed -- alleging a widespread conspiracy that includes a false claim that voting machines were rigged to flip votes from Trump to Democrat Joe Biden.
Last week, Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr., a Bush appointee, blocked the state from "altering, destroying, or erasing" any software or data on the voting machines that were used to tabulate presidential votes in three Georgia counties. The temporary hold is in place until the court can hear arguments on Powell's demand to inspect the machines.
State election officials submitted a new filing Thursday asking the judge to modify or dissolve the order so they can start preparing the machines for the highly-anticipated Senate runoff elections that are just a month away.
Officials said that otherwise, their "ability to prepare for the January 5, 2021 Runoff Election will be significantly hindered if not practically precluded altogether," the state wrote in its filing.
"Cobb and Gwinnett [County] voters may also be subject to long lines due to an insufficient number of voting machines," the suit said.
Some of the prep work that needs to be done on the machines is "labor-intensive and time consuming," the director of the state's Center for Election Systems wrote in an affidavit, and can take two weeks to complete.
State officials also said that Powell's concern that voting machines will be "wiped" during this process, and that forensic data will be lost, is "wrong," and shows a basic misunderstanding of election systems. Data from the Nov. 3 presidential contest is already stored in three different ways, they said.
The judge had already blamed Powell for delaying the case in her efforts to have her experts conduct an analysis of the voting machines. In its ruling, the court had only agreed to freeze work on the machines in three counties, while Powell wanted access to machines statewide. Powell appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing a pause in the case.
"Any delay in conducting the hearing on the claims in Plaintiffs’ complaint would be attributable to Plaintiffs -- not this Court -- since Plaintiffs are the ones who filed the notice of appeal," the judge wrote.
With the state's two Senate seats both up for grabs, the outcome of the runoffs will ultimately decide which party controls the Senate. Early voting for the election is supposed to begin in just two weeks. The counties where machines remain frozen include Cobb and Gwinnett, both of which lean heavily for Democrats.
"The continued threat of enforcement of the [order] would rule out, or at least make extremely difficult, any chance of readiness for early voting on December 14 and election-day voting," the state said. "The harm to the counties, Georgia voters, and the State election process itself cannot be overstated."
As of Friday, neither the judge nor Powell had responded to the filing in court.