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Group: Ga. absentee ballot portal should be available in Spanish

By Arielle Kass, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

A civil rights group that filed a federal lawsuit to get Gwinnett County to send Spanish-language absentee ballot applications to residents who aren’t fluent in English said the Secretary of State’s office should be required to make its absentee ballot portal available in Spanish, as well.

In a filing earlier this month, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law asked the court to require the Secretary of State’s office to translate its absentee ballot application portal and ballot confirmation receipt into Spanish. The request also includes accurate translations of voter precinct cards on the state’s My Voter Page and broader access to Spanish-language materials.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, Gwinnett is required to send Spanish-language voting materials. The law requires bilingual ballot access when more than 5% or 10,000 citizens of voting age are members of a single language minority and have difficulty speaking English. In Gwinnett, 21% of the total population is Hispanic, according to Census data — nearly 200,000 people.

The civil rights group said Census data shows nearly 14,000 citizens are of voting age and are fluent in Spanish, but have limited English proficiency.

Citizens educated in Spanish in Puerto Rico are also eligible to receive Spanish-language ballot applications statewide, attorneys said.

Gwinnett leaders considered sending absentee ballot applicationsto residents en masse, at the request of the county board of elections. Ultimately, county commissioners decided earlier this month not to do so. Instead, they are directing residents to use the state’s online portal to apply for absentee ballots.

John Powers, an attorney for the Lawyers’ Committee, said the county’s decision not to send ballot applications, coupled with the fact that the state’s materials aren’t in Spanish, leaves residents with limited English proficiency “in the lurch.”

“We’re definitely concerned,” he said.

The filing would amend a previous lawsuit filed on behalf of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta, New Georgia Project, and Common Cause. But the change needs to be approved by Judge William M. Ray II, the federal judge who is hearing the case.

Gwinnett County and the state have filed motions to dismiss the original case. A spokesperson for Gwinnett said the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation, while Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said the office had not received the new filings.

Powers said his group asked that office if they would consent to making materials accessible in Spanish and they did not. He said limiting access to only English suppresses voter turnout.