By Tyler Estep | The Atlanta Journal-Constitution | March 12, 2019
A new federal lawsuit accuses Georgia’s four most populous counties of not being sufficiently prepared to hold high-turnout elections.
The suit, filed Monday in United States District Court in Atlanta, claims that the governments of Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties did not provide enough polling places, voting machines and staff during the turbulent mid-term election of Nov. 2018.
It asks the court to order the counties to enact changes before the 2020 election season that would prevent voters from waiting in “unreasonably long lines” on Election Day and allow staff to more quickly process registration forms and absentee ballot applications.
The suit, filed by the ACLU of Georgia on behalf of an organization called Georgia Shift, acknowledges that state law governs elections but argues that operational problems are “directly traceable” to counties.
“Unpreparedness for elections even in the slightest sense (such as the failure to provide power cords to voting machines) can trigger four-hour long lines that result in an undue burden on the right to vote,” the suit says.
The reference to power cords was directed at Gwinnett County, which had delays at one 2018 polling place after cords to power machines were not packed.
Gwinnett became the focal point of a statewide debate over voting rights during November’s election season.
Because of its rapidly changing demographics and political leanings, campaigns like those of Democrats Stacey Abrams and Carolyn Bourdeaux focused much of their efforts in the county. The revelation that Gwinnett had rejected a disproportionate number of absentee ballots compared to other counties gave those campaigns and other advocacy groups more ammunition. Multiple lawsuits were filed targeting various perceived issues; some resulted in previously rejected ballots being counted.
Gwinnett officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying they were doing things like evaluating absentee ballots in accordance with their interpretation of state law.
Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson and Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt both said Tuesday morning that their counties would not comment on the pending litigation.
Representatives from Cobb and DeKalb did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gwinnett bore much of the focus of voting rights groups in November, but Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton took on plenty themselves. All three counties had long lines because they offered fewer voting machines than usual.
The newest lawsuit comes amid the ongoing saga tied to replacing the state’s voting machines.
“For too long, our large metropolitan counties -- where large numbers of potential voters reside -- have failed to provide the tools required for their elections boards to do their job,” ACLU of Georgia executive director Andrea Young said in a news release. “The sacred, constitutional right to vote for every Georgia citizen hangs in the balance.”
While the new suit asks for changes to be put into effect prior to the 2020 election, it does not mention Gwinnett County’s March 19 special election on joining MARTA, early voting for which is already well underway. County officials have said they’re treating the election as if it’s a mid-term, even though it’s likely to have only a portion of the turnout.