By Mark Niesse – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Arielle Kass – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Just half of absentee ballots requested in Gwinnett County have been mailed to voters so far because of delays caused by an unusually large ballot envelope, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
Gwinnett increased the size of its ballot envelope as the result of a court settlement in March that required larger type sizes and clearer instructions in response to a lawsuit over high numbers of ballot rejections.
The big ballot envelope, which measures 6.5 inches by 11 inches, takes more time to process by an Albany, New York-based company hired by Gwinnett.
“This is why elections administration 101 is to not change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Friday. “Georgia’s elections staff and poll workers have a large enough task ahead of them executing an election during a pandemic without shortsighted and uninformed activist lawsuits burdening them with impractical bureaucratic hurdles.”
Bianca Keaton, chairwoman of Gwinnett’s Democratic Party, countered Raffensperger’s claim, saying his office had negotiated and agreed to the settlement months ago. She called his statement “disingenuous,” saying it was “some of the ugliest political posturing.”
“Elections administration 101 is to make sure all eligible voters can vote, period,” said Keaton, whose local branch of the Democratic Party wasn’t part of the lawsuit. “Free and fair elections. That’s elections 101, and they’ve been failing at it.”
So far, 120,000 Gwinnett voters have requested absentee ballots, but many them haven’t yet arrived.
Across Georgia, at least 1.1 million of the 1.4 million absentee ballots requested through Thursday have been mailed, although processing times and high volume has kept some voters waiting.
The court settlement was an agreement between the plaintiffs, which include Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the defendants, including Raffensperger and Gwinnett County.
The lawsuit contested the ballot envelope used in previous elections, which was cramped with small type to fit required English and Spanish languages. Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia required by federal law to print election materials in Spanish because of its high Latino population.
The number of ballot rejections for incorrect signatures or missing information dropped during this year’s primary in Gwinnett and across Georgia.
A spokesperson for Gwinnett County said the elections supervisor was not immediately available to comment.
Over 100 counties are using Arizona-based Runbeck Election Services to process absentee ballots until mid-October, but Gwinnett had to find a different company, Fort Orange Press, because of the unusual ballot size. Some counties are handling absentee ballot processing and mailing locally.