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.
Absentee Ballot Rejection
The Coalition for Good Governance sued Gwinnett County on behalf of Georgia voters, demanding that the county be required to notify voters of Absentee Ballot rejection within a day and allow discrepancies to be corrected by the affected voters. This lawsuit was filed in response to the 2018 midterm election cycle, in which Gwinnett County rejected 595 ballots, which accounted for over ⅓ of Georgia’s total absentee ballot rejections despite the fact that only 6% of Georgia’s absentee ballots were submitted in Gwinnett. Over 300 of the rejected ballots were cast by minority voters.
Gwinnett cited address discrepancies, missing birth dates, and signatures that are not identical to those on registration as reasons why voters’ ballots were rejected.
A similar lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that specifically targets Gwinnett County’s ballot rejections due to mismatched signatures, which the lawsuit labels as a violation of due process and the rejections as a whole as a “constitutional trainwreck”.
“The numbers are too high statewide,” Bruce Brown, a lead attorney on one of the cases, said. “But if you’re living in Gwinnett County and you vote absentee, you have about a three or four times greater chance of getting your absentee ballot rejected.”
Then Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office reportedly launched an investigation into Gwinnett County’s excessive rejections, but remained skeptical of the merit of the accusations against the county. In a statement, they said that they “will not be bullied by out of state organizations or political operatives who want to generate headlines and advance a baseless narrative.”
Gwinnett County summarily denied all accusations, saying that their means of processing absentee ballots was in accordance with their interpretation of Georgia Law.
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Insufficient Polling Locations
In March of 2019, several civic organizations filed a lawsuit on behalf of Georgia Shift, an organization that represents young people of marginalized identities, naming several Georgia Counties, including Gwinnett County. The lawsuit claimed that these entities had failed to provide sufficient voting machines, elections staff, and polling locations in the most recent election cycle. They believe that these failures had violated the 14th amendment since they placed an undue burden on civilians to cast their votes.
“Without those tools, the boards of elections are hamstrung in their ability to ensure that voters’ sacred, constitutional right to vote is protected,” the lawsuit reads.
The primary purpose of this lawsuit was to request that the courts order the named counties to implement changes prior to the 2020 election season that would alleviate the observed issues with their election processes. They say that such changes should decrease voters’ wait time on election day, and should allow staff to process absentee ballots and other documentation more quickly.
All counties named had longer wait times than usual, which was larger due to the fact that they had fewer available voting machines per precinct. This, the accusers say, is evidence of the counties in question’s lack of preparedness, and the shortcomings of their election procedures.
These charges were effectively dismissed in August of 2019.
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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