Gwinnett Grievances: A History of Voter Suppression in Gwinnett County – Part 1

Gwinnett County has a long history of negligence and engagement with voter suppression tactics. They lack the necessary regard for minority voters – and their extensive legal track record is evidence of this. Their negligence has again come to the forefront of the news cycle due to the controversial comments made by their Elections Chair Alice O’Lenick during the 2020-21 elections cycle, so we have put together a three part series discussing the legislation that has been filed against the county for their voter suppression tactics in the past decade – airing our grievances about Gwinnett’s procedures. 

Spanish Ballots:

A lawsuit was filed against Gwinnett County in April of 2020 by several civil rights organizations, including The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and the New Georgia Project, demanding that Spanish Ballots be sent to Gwinnett County residents in addition to the English ones already being distributed.  This lawsuit was filed in response to Gwinnett County’s issuing of absentee ballots printed exclusively in English to their citizens, despite the fact that the most recent Census information reports that 21% of Gwinnett County’s population is Hispanic or Latino – making Gwinnett the only county in Georgia that is required by Sections 204 and 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to provide all government information in both English and Spanish. 

The plaintiffs filed this complaint ahead of the June primary set to take place that year, saying that the county’s decision not to send a Spanish translation of the aforementioned election materials to their citizens was evidence of efforts to deliberately disenfranchise their large hispanic population. 

“Sending English-only absentee ballot applications in a diverse county covered under Section 203 is yet another attempt at voter suppression, which is a direct violation of the constitutional rights,” said Kristen Clarke, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee, who legally submitted the lawsuit on behalf of the aforementioned Civil Rights Organizations. “With Georgia’s primary election looming, it is imperative that Gwinnett County and other Georgia counties comply with their obligations under the Voting Rights Act and permit Spanish-speaking voters an equal opportunity to cast their ballot and have their voice heard.”

In early October, a federal judge ruled in favor of Gwinnett County officials, saying that the fact that Gwinnett County ensured that Spanish ballots were available by request and online sufficiently met federal legal requirements. The Civil Rights Organizations have committed to pursuing this matter further.

Resources for more information:

Polling Place Reductions

In March of 2010, Gwinnett County announced that it had received federal approval to reduce the number of polling locations from 163 to 155, claiming budgetary necessity and efficiency reasons. Since this decision, Gwinnett has not added any additional polling locations, despite the fact that over 175,000 more additional active voters now live in the county. Resultantly, each location served an average of 3,719 voters in the November 2020 election cycle. 

Gwinnett County has one of the highest minority populations in the state of Georgia, and its relatively recent switch from majority white to majority minority population has been considered an integral contributor to recent Democratic success in the state of Georgia. It is important to note, then, that six of Gwinnett’s seven most congested polling locations reside in areas that serve majority minority populations. Lawrenceville holds one of the largest Black populations in the county, and was required to stay open after hours during the 2010 primary to allow proper opportunity for its 7,000 assigned citizens to cast their ballots. Also during this primary, Lawrenceville was one of 16 polling locations that reported missing Dominion Voting machines. 

In a press release, Gwinnett county explained that these poll reductions were justified, because early and absentee voting made polling location consolidation acceptable at some locations. 

Resources for more information:


Did you know that the public can attend Board of Registration and Elections meetings? 

These meetings are open to the public by Georgia law. Georgia Open Meetings Act.

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