Georgia County Need Not Rush Opening of Early-Voting Sites

ATLANTA (CN) — Refusing to hasten the opening of seven satellite polling stations, a federal judge backed the efforts of Georgia’s second most-populous county to support early voting.

U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg issued her opinion Tuesday, a day after denying injunctive relief from the bench, as the Peach State dove into the first of what will be three weeks of early voting leading up to the presidential primary election on March 24.

Employees of the Fulton County Election Preparation Center in Atlanta test electronic voting machines ahead of the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz, File)

Beginning next week, Gwinnett voters will be able to make use of seven satellite poll sites as well as the headquarters of the county Voter Registration and Elections Office. For the first week, however, the county said its budget could only sustain voting at the headquarters.

This prompted a Feb. 27 lawsuit from the county and state conference of the NAACP as well as the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda.

Pointing to the long delays voters experienced at the county election headquarters in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, the groups alleged that Gwinnett’s failure to have all the poll sites open for three weeks of early voting amounted to violations of the First and 14th Amendments.

Minimizing the injury asserted by the groups as “modest and slight,” Judge Grimberg emphasized that “the anecdotal problems … that occurred in prior election cycles all took place during general elections, not primaries.”

“There is no indication that this decision was used as a proxy for voter suppression or targeted at a protected class,” Grimberg later added.

John Powers, an attorney for the plaintiff organization with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Wednesday that the groups are unlikely to appeal but remain concerned about long voting lines.

Gwinnett County is holding 18 days of early voting at its elections headquarters in Lawrenceville. Early voting began in Georgia on March 2 and will end on March 20. Beginning on March 9, early voting will be possible at seven satellite locations across the county.

Pointing to the steps Gwinnett has taken for the election, the judge on Tuesday noted that polling locations will be open both before and after normal business hours.

“In fact, defendants have actually increased — not decreased — the amount of early voting polling locations each election year since 2016,” Grimberg wrote.

In denying the budget request to open all seven satellite polling locations for the full three-week early voting period, the Board of Registration and Elections claimed that the county was dealing with a delay in the delivery of new voting machines.

Gwinnett County previously made headlines during the 2018 general election when large numbers of absentee ballots were rejected by Georgia election officials due to mismatched or missing signatures and other issues, prompting two lawsuits from civil rights groups.

In response, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order forcing Georgia counties not to use the exact signature match requirement for absentee ballots during that election.

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