Court finds that the process of rejecting ballots due to an omitted or incorrect birth year violates the Civil Rights Act.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, partnering with the Coalition for Good Governance, secured an important win for voters in Gwinnett County. On Sunday, November 11th, the groups filed an emergency motion seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent officials in Gwinnett County from rejecting absentee ballots containing immaterial errors or omissions. Today, Judge Leigh Martin May granted the request, finding that Gwinnett County’s process of rejecting absentee ballots on the basis of an omitted or incorrect birth year violates the Civil Rights Act. The court orders that these ballots be counted in the November 6th election.
“For the public to have confidence in our electoral process, it is critical that every vote be counted and that every voice be heard,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Yet officials in communities like Gwinnett County remain bent on erecting unnecessary barriers for voters and continue to take extraordinary steps to justify their rejection of absentee ballots. From the start, we observed that Gwinnett County officials were rejecting absentee mail ballots cast by minority voters at far higher rates than that for white voters. This is an outcome that can only be explained along lines of race. Our democracy works when every vote is counted and we will continue to fight against the ongoing voter suppression attempts that we are witnessing across Georgia this election season.”
The temporary restraining order was issued as part of a lawsuit filed in October challenging the extraordinarily high rate of rejections of absentee mail ballots in Georgia and, in particular, the rejection of ballots cast by minority voters by Gwinnett County. The defendants are Georgia Secretary of State Robyn A. Crittenden, members of the Georgia State Board of Elections, and members of the Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections.
Exacerbating the situation, the bulk of rejections in Gwinnett County are for the inconsequential failure of the voter to fill in the year of birth on the outside envelope, although the voter’s identity has been verified through signature match.
“We are very gratified that Judge May affirmed the rights of these eligible citizens to vote and directed Gwinnett County to count these absentee ballots for the November 6, 2018 election,” said Atlanta lawyer Bruce Brown, who, along with John Powers of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, represents the Plaintiffs in the Martin case. “We urge Gwinnett County, and all the other counties, to not only count the absentee ballots that are subject to Judge May’s decision but also to count any other ballot that has been rejected for reasons immaterial to the voter’s qualification to vote. Doing so is consistent with State law, required by Federal statutory and constitutional law, and will advance our shared interest in honoring and protecting the right to vote.”
Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance, said: “This order re-enfranchising voters is another significant step of progress in our continuing fight for fair elections in Georgia. There will be at least 534 voters whose right to vote has been vindicated by the Court’s order. We expect that there will be significantly more ballots counted when the full impact is analyzed. Coalition for Good Governance has reached out to Gwinnett officials to insist that they thoroughly research all batches of rejected ballots to count every ballot covered by the Court’s order. Our organization has been pleased to underwrite and support this successful lawsuit to protect voters’ rights.”
View the full order here.