Judge dismisses request for more Spanish ballot access in Georgia

A federal judge has dismissed a request for more ballot access in Spanish in Gwinnett County and elsewhere in the state. AJC file photo

A federal judge has dismissed requests from a civil rights group to require Gwinnett County and the state to send absentee ballot applications in Spanish.

In a Monday order, Judge William M. Ray II dismissed the case, brought by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials and other groups, saying that the secretary of state’s office and the Gwinnett elections board didn’t violate the federal Voting Rights Act, as the lawsuit claimed.

“Nonetheless, this Court recognizes that Plaintiffs' end goal of ensuring that Spanish-speaking Gwinnett voters receive bilingual absentee ballot applications is a reasonable and desirable outcome,” Ray wrote.

He said, though, that GALEO and the other groups lacked the standing to make the case. Ray said in his order that the individuals who said they weren’t sent Spanish-language ballot applications were able to get them from the county, and did vote. He added that a Spanish-language ballot application was accessible on the county website.

Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO’s executive director, said he disagreed with the judge’s analysis.

“I think Gwinnett County voters need to be protected no matter who sends the voting information,” Gonzalez said. “He is in power to force the state to comply with federal law.”

Gonzalez said his group would consider an appeal.

The lawsuit stems from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to send absentee ballot applications to all Georgia voters earlier this year. Raffensperger sent the applications in English, but Gwinnett is required to send Spanish-language voting materials under the federal Voting Rights Act.

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.

GALEO had updated the suit to include the secretary of state’s online portal for ballot requests. The secretary of state’s office declined to comment and a spokesperson for Gwinnett County did not respond to requests for comment.

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