Black Lawmakers Call For Greater Diversity, Training Of Gwinnett Elections Staff

Georgia Legislative Black Caucus members called for more training of election staff and diversity in Gwinnett County on Thursday.

Tasnim Shamma / WABE

Georgia Legislative Black Caucus members called for more training of election staff and diversity in Gwinnett County.

That’s after the county rejected about 524 absentee ballots of nearly 22,064 mailed in as of Thursday afternoon — more than a third of all absentee ballots rejected in the entire state.

Two civil rights groups, the Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian-Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, filed a federal complaint Tuesday against the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registration and Elections as well as Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, represents the southern part of Gwinnett county, said the county’s diversity could be a factor in the rejections.

“A lot of that is due to people not understanding that, that is how a name is supposed to be spelled, or maybe it’s a nickname or maybe something is missing, but I really do think it’s because of the diversity of Gwinnett County, you’re just going to have different types of names,” Kendrick said.

Legislators also blamed the state’s new “exact match” policy and new state laws, calling for signatures on mail-in ballots to exactly match what voters have on file.

Many of those rejections are due to insufficient information on the “Oath of Elector” pledge that’s on the back of the mail-in envelope.

Gwinnett is the only county in the state that drafted its own oath and has a bilingual ballot. That’s because it’s required to do so under the Voting Rights Act, because of the county’s large Spanish-speaking population.

“The only difference between Gwinnett and the state, as far as what the envelope looks like, is that we have Spanish language on ours,” said Gwinnett County spokesperson Joseph Sorenson. “That’s the only difference you’re going to find in the State of Georgia.”

Sorenson would not comment on the pending lawsuit, but released the following statement:

“The County is committed to a process that protects the voting rights of all of its citizens and fully complies with the law in the process. The handling of absentee ballot applications and the acceptance and rejection of ballots by Gwinnett County has complied with the law and will continue to do so.  The lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia is filed by five plaintiffs, only two of whom are Gwinnett County residents. Neither of the county residents has yet applied for absentee ballots. Notably, none of the allegations assert any violations of the law by the Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections or the County.”

A court hearing is scheduled on October 23 at 1 p.m.