Politics

Case Of Gwinnett’s Yellow Envelope: ‘Poor Design’ May Be Leading To Ballot Rejections

Gwinnett County spokesperson Joe Sorenson shows the number of absentee ballots rejected on the Secretary of State's website.
Gwinnett County spokesperson Joe Sorenson shows the number of absentee ballots rejected on the Secretary of State's website.
Credit Tasnim Shamma / WABE

A federal judge will hear arguments Tuesday afternoon challenging Georgia’s exact match law, which requires voter registrations to exactly match driver’s license and Social Security data.

Gwinnett County has rejected 571 absentee ballots that have been mailed in as of 10:13 p.m. Monday, according to the Secretary of State’s website. Some were rejected because signatures don’t match what’s on file.

Another reason could be the ballot’s design.

Gwinnett’s Yellow Envelope

If you requested to vote absentee in Gwinnett County, there’s a yellow envelope for the absentee ballot. On the back is an “Oath of Elector” form that must be completely filled out and signed.

Gwinnett County’s rejections account for 30.8 percent of all ballots rejected statewide so far. Civil rights groups are now suing. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)
Gwinnett County’s rejections account for 30.8 percent of all ballots rejected statewide so far. Civil rights groups are now suing. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)

Atlanta-based graphic designer Kiara Wright said the layout and design of the yellow envelope, which is in two languages, could be confusing people.

Gwinnett is the only county in the state required by the federal government to issue election materials in English and Spanish because of its large Hispanic population. The 2018 election is the first time the county has added Spanish, after it was notified by the Census about its demographic shift.

Dual Language Ballot

Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson said the county had to fit a lot of information on the back and had to use the envelopes provided by the U.S. Postal Service.

Wright said it’s poorly designed.

“At the top, the English and Spanish is on top of each other, but on the bottom, the English and Spanish is left and right, and so it just seems like a lot crammed into one space, and it’s hard to follow basic font and message hierarchy based on the design,” Wright said.

She said it could be one reason people are forgetting to fill out the oath on the back completely.

DeKalb County’s absentee ballot envelope or Fulton County’s has a simpler layout. 

“There’s a box around the signature line and an arrow pointing to exactly where you need to sign, and that is not present on the Gwinnett County one,” Wright said.

Absentee Ballot Rejections 

So far Gwinnett County has rejected 571 absentee ballots of the 26,028 that have been received by the county so far. Some are being rejected for missing signatures and incorrect dates.

Rejections represent only 2.1 percent of total absentee ballots. However, Gwinnett County’s rejections account for 30.8 percent of all ballots rejected statewide so far.

Voting Lawsuit 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed an emergency motion on behalf of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta that would provide due process to absentee voters whose ballots are rejected due to an alleged signature mismatch.

State Rep. Sam Park says the Gwinnett County's exact match policy is contributing to the number of rejections of absentee ballots in the county. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)
State Rep. Sam Park says Gwinnett County’s exact match policy is contributing to the number of rejections of absentee ballots in the county. (Tasnim Shamma/WABE)

Legislators like state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick said the state’s exact match law is partly to blame. Kendrick represents part of South Gwinnett and said the high rejection rate also likely has to do with her county’s diversity.

“I really do think a lot of it has to do with the diversity of Gwinnett County, you’re just going to have different types of names,” Kendrick said.

For example, Kendrick said, her name has an apostrophe. By state law, it could be rejected if omitted on a mail-in ballot. State House Rep. Sam Park, who represents the northern part of Gwinnett, said Asian-Americans account for most of the rejections in the county.

Rejection Notices

Gwinnett spokesman Sorenson said county officials are notifying people whose ballots are rejected.

“This is still a very good way to vote, people. If they are being rejected because they’ve made an error with the ballot, you’ll get a very quick response from the county saying your ballot’s been rejected,” Sorenson said. “You have three choices: you can reapply; you can vote advanced in-person, which is going right now; or you can vote on Election Day.”

However, if elections officials can’t find a voter’s exact name in the system, they may be given a provisional ballot, which is counted after Election Day.