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Suburban Atlanta officials sued for not mailing absentee ballots

Voters want an extension of the absentee ballot return deadline after Cobb County officials admitted three days before Election Day they failed to mail out more than 1,000 requested ballots.

ATLANTA (CN) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of a proposed class of suburban Atlanta voters Sunday after election officials admitted that more than 1,000 absentee ballot requests went unfulfilled due to human error.

The action comes after election leaders in Cobb County announced on Saturday that new staff members failed to follow procedures on two days to make sure ballots were mailed to 1,036 voters who had requested them.

Although approximately 250 of the affected voters have already voted in person, the lawsuit filed on behalf of four voters and a Cobb County voter education organization alleges that many of those who did not receive their requested ballot live outside the county and may be unable to cast their vote in person on Election Day.

“I am sorry that this office let these voters down,” Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said in a message to the elections board. “Many of the absentee staff have been averaging 80 or more hours per week, and they are exhausted. Still, that is no excuse for such a critical error.”

The voters did not learn of the error until Saturday, three days before Election Day and after early voting had already ended.

State law requires elections officials to mail absentee ballots within three business days of receiving the absentee ballot application during the three weeks before Election Day.

The elections board has said that some of the unmailed absentee ballots would be sent by overnight delivery to voters living outside the state. But the complaint alleges that “there is no guarantee that voters will receive these ballots and be able to return them before the absentee ballot receipt deadline on Election Day.”

“Hundreds of Cobb County voters are on the brink of disenfranchisement due to the failure of the Cobb County Board of Elections & Registration to issue absentee ballots in accordance with the law,” the complaint filed in Cobb County Superior Court states. “These voters … have been harmed by the failure of Defendants to meet their obligations to protect the fundamental right to vote.”

The lawsuit asks that election officials be ordered to send absentee ballots via overnight mail to any voters in the proposed class to whom replacement ballots have not already been overnighted. The plaintiffs are also asking for an extension of the receipt deadline for all replacement absentee ballots from 7 p.m. on Election Day to Nov. 14, the same deadline which has been set for absentee voters in the military and overseas.

Unless relief is granted, the complaint alleges the voters will probably not be able to participate in Tuesday’s midterm election.

“If these voters are unable to vote in person on Election Day, the Cobb Board has disenfranchised them. Voters who live within the state but cannot cast a ballot in person on Election Day will also be disenfranchised because of the Cobb Board’s error,” the complaint alleges.

Both Cobb County election officials and the ACLU have cited Georgia’s new voting law, S.B. 202, as one reason for the error.

The new law cut the window of time in which voters can request an absentee ballot from 180 days before an election to 78 days. The time period in which counties can begin mailing absentee ballots was also shortened from 49 days before an election to 29 days.

“There is a direct correlation between the state’s sweeping anti-voter law, S.B. 202, and Cobb County’s failure to get over a thousand registered voters their absentee ballots,” said Rahul Garabadu, the ACLU of Georgia’s senior voting rights attorney. “The anti-voter law put tremendous pressure on elections officials to accomplish a number of responsibilities under a very tight deadline, and in Cobb County, that pressure has resulted in a huge error and hundreds of voters at risk of being disenfranchised.”

Cobb County elections officials say they will attempt to contact voters who were impacted by the error but who have not already voted via phone or email to direct them to cast their ballot in person on Tuesday.

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