Two Lawsuits Target Georgia's Absentee Voting Rejections
Another part of Georgia’s elections infrastructure is being challenged in court this week, as two separate lawsuits are challenging parts of Georgia's mail-in absentee ballot process.
Smythe DuVal, a Libertarian candidate for secretary of state, is joined by Democratic state House candidate Jasmine Clark and three Georgia voters in suing Republican secretary of state and gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp and the Gwinnett County Board of Elections.
That lawsuit claims that Gwinnett County is rejecting absentee ballots at a rate higher than the rest of Georgia’s 159 counties, and that minority voters are disproportionately affected.
As of Monday night, nearly 60,000 mail-in absentee ballots have been accepted according to the secretary of state’s office. 1,219 have been rejected, and 464 of them came from Gwinnett County.
The most common reasons for a rejection are “insufficient oath information” and writing the current year instead of a voter’s birth year.
When a voter successfully receives an absentee by mail ballot, they must fill out a signed oath complete with information such as county, name, residence, birth year and signature.
The lawsuit said the high concentration of rejected ballots in Gwinnett, coupled with some counties having no rejections, indicates an uneven treatment with how elections officials handle ballots with minor errors or inconsistencies.
In an interview, DuVal said there is also a disparity between how counties decide to notify voters whose absentee ballots are rejected.
“Laws are not being applied equally, the criteria seems to be haphazardly applied and it’s affecting voters,” he said. “The law says the boards of elections are to notify voters there is a problem… but it doesn’t say anything about when they notify.”
As a result, the Gwinnett County lawsuit asks for voters whose absentee ballot is rejected to be notified by first class mail, telephone and email, with instructions on how to fix the problems.
Additionally, the group wants counties to not mark a ballot as “rejected” if it contains those errors, and to have a bipartisan “Signature Review Committee” look at any ballots that might be rejected because of a signature discrepancy.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit Tuesday targeting the signature discrepancy portion of the application and voting process.
In a statement, the ACLU said county registrations officials need to provide 'due process' to those who have problems with their absentee ballots.
“Georgia’s signature matching law is a literacy test reminiscent of Jim Crow,” ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Sean Young said. “If government officials are going to take away someone’s constitutional right to vote, then they must provide voters with ample time to contest the decision and have their ballot counted.”
Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office, said state law makes county-level officials solely responsible for any decisions about voter eligibility and accepting absentee by mail ballots.
“Today, our office opened an investigation on behalf of the State Election Board to ensure that counties are following the law in making these determinations,” Broce said.
The secretary of state’s office said it has already identified several counties it will contact to learn more about their absentee ballot processes, and several voters have reached out to the office with concerns.
Absentee voting isn't the only part of the state's voting infrastructure facing legal challenges.
Last week, a coalition of civil rights groups sued over the state’s “exact match” voter registration law. As of Sept. 17, approximately 53,000 Georgians were on a “pending” list because the information on their voter registration application did not exactly match information on file with the state’s Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.
The suit is underwritten by North Carolina-based Coalition for Good Governance, which is a plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit that seeks to move Georgia to a paper ballot-based election system.
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