Georgia County Sued Over Rejection of Absentee Ballots

ATLANTA (CN) — A group of voters sued Georgia’s Gwinnett County Monday, claiming that the county excessively rejects mail-in absentee ballots due to voters’ small, innocent errors.

The Coalition for Good Governance filed a complaint in Georgia federal court on behalf of four voters and Smythe DuVal, the Libertarian candidate for Georgia Secretary of State, against Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state and county election officials to stop Gwinnett County from continuing to reject absentee ballots.

The lawsuit asks the court to issue an injunction requiring election officials to immediately review the rejected ballots, reinstate ballots that were rejected “for the sole reason of an incorrect or missing year of birth,” and give voters notice that their absentee ballot or ballot application was rejected by one-day business mail, telephone and e-mail.

The complaint also asks that the court place “reasonable limitations” on the county’s ability to reject absentee ballots and applications and requests that voters be given until the Friday after Election Day to cure any discrepancies on their ballot.

The lawsuit comes after media reports revealed that Gwinnett County has rejected a disproportionately large number of absentee ballots compared to other Georgia counties. According to an analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gwinnett County has rejected 390 ballots so far.

The ballots tossed out by Gwinnett County account for approximately 37 percent of the total rejected ballots statewide.

The complaint alleges that small mistakes like writing down the wrong date or putting a signature on the wrong line can cause an absentee ballot to be rejected.

“The consequence of making such an understandable human error is a presumption by the reviewing official that the vote is fraudulent voter [sic], with the result that the ballot is deemed void,” the complaint says.

Since Georgia law does not require that notification be sent to voters within a specified time frame after their absentee ballot is rejected, the complaint alleges that many voters are not given sufficient time to cure the discrepancies in their ballot, especially if they mail in their ballot close to Election Day.

“Any discrepant mail ballots received on Election Day or the prior day would have almost no chance of cure given that, unlike provisional ballots of polling place voters, there are no post-Election Day cure processes that apply to mail ballots,” the complaint states.

According to the MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s Election Performance Index, Georgia rejects more mail-in ballots than almost any other state. The index ranks Georgia as the eighth worst state in the nation for ballot rejections.

The complaint claims that Gwinnett County is particularly notorious for rejecting absentee ballots.

“For example, in the 2016 general election, Gwinnett County rejected 1,196 of timely received mailed ballots out of the 20,120 timely ballots cast, a 6% rejection rate,” the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that since October 12, 2018, Gwinnett County has rejected 9.6 percent of the 4,063 mail-in ballots it has received.

“The state’s most populous county, Fulton, had rejected no mail ballots as of October 12, 2018,” the complaint states.

An analysis of data from the Secretary of State’s office by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law suggested that Asian, black and Hispanic voters have their ballots rejected at higher rates than white voters.

Gwinnett County is one of the most diverse counties in the state: over 60 percent of its residents are non-white.

“Thousands of voters have been rejected by these unfair and unconstitutional practices in recent elections. We are asking the Court to intervene to stop these unjust actions in advance of the November election. Certain Georgia laws and policies prevent the counting of valid ballots cast by eligible voters merely trying to exercise their right to vote,” Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, said in a statement.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican who is currently running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, has repeatedly faced accusations of voter suppression in the months leading up to the November 6 election.

On October 11, a group of civil rights organizations filed suit against Kemp in Georgia federal court in an attempt to block his office from continuing to freeze more than 53,000 Georgia voter registration applications.

The applications are on hold under the state’s “exact match” law, which requires information on registration applications to exactly match government records. Even the smallest inconsistencies, like an extra space in a name, a typo, or a misplaced hyphen, can cause an application to be rejected.

The lawsuit claims that the “exact match” protocol largely harms minority groups.

The accusations against Kemp’s office have attracted national attention and high-profile criticism.

“What’s happening in North Dakota and Georgia are examples of why Democrats have to be tough and be prepared to fight for democratic ideals and American values. Many call it voter suppression by Republicans. More simple than that: it’s cheating. Be strong – vote!” Eric Holder, former US Attorney General, tweeted on Tuesday.

Holder was referring to the Supreme Court’s recent decision not to strike down a North Dakota voter ID law that requires voters to have a current residential street address rather than a mailing address. Voting rights advocates argue that the law disproportionately affects Native American voters, who typically use P.O. box addresses.

Early in-person voting in Georgia began on Monday.

According to data from the Secretary of State’s office, over 120,000 people have already voted either in-person or via absentee ballot. GeorgiaVotes.com, a website that analyzes voter turnout data, shows that turnout is 181 percent higher than at the same point in the 2014 midterm election.

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