Gwinnett elections board meets in private as ballot battles continue

The Gwinnett County elections board held a special-called meeting Friday afternoon to discuss matters related to ongoing litigation over how it evaluates absentee ballots.

The majority of the meeting was held in a private executive session, which is allowed under Georgia law in certain circumstances. Board chairman Stephen Day wouldn’t get into specifics but said afterward that “nothing has changed as far as Gwinnett’s posture in regards to anything.”

“There was lively discussion,” Day said. “… But the majority will of the board was to continue in the way that we have, the positions we’ve had.”

A handful of voting and civil rights groups sued Gwinnett County and then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp during the early voting period that preceded Election Day, homing in on Gwinnett's disproportionately high reporting of signature-related absentee ballot rejections. A judge ultimately issued an injunction ordering Gwinnett — and every other county in Georgia — to allow voters rejected on such basis new opportunities to have their ballots counted.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a new press release Thursday afternoon, taking issue with Gwinnett’s rejection of absentee ballots on the basis of missing birth date information.

Darryl Joachim was one voter rejected due to such an issue. At the elections office Friday, he said he cast an absentee ballot but was rejected because he did not include his date of birth on the ballot envelope.

He was told his ballot won’t be counted.

“I was hoping that it would count,” Joachim said. “Every vote counts.”

Secretary of State’s office spokeswoman Candice Broce said the office was “reviewing this information with our legal team.”

Day declined to comment directly on the ACLU claims but reiterated that “nothing has changed,” excepting what was mandated by the federal judge’s injunction.

“There are definitely different political points of view” on the elections board, which is made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent, Day said. “But we do agree that our staff has acted in the way that the law stated they should act.”

Friday’s meeting came amid a statewide conversation about a different type of ballot: provisional ones.

County officials have said there are somewhere between 2,400 and 2,500 provisional ballots — which are issued to voters who had registration questions that must later be resolved — in Gwinnett. But aside from the fact that about 1,500 of the provisionals were believed to have been issued in Georgia's 7th Congressional District, they have not released further information.

The 7th district between Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and Republican incumbent Rob Woodall is currently separated by less than 1,000 votes. Representatives from both campaigns were at the Gwinnett elections office Friday.

Provisional ballots have also become a hot topic in the governor’s race between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, who has not conceded defeat and in recent days has tried to rally as many provisional ballots as possible.

The elections office stayed open until 8 p.m. Thursday and planned to do so again Friday, specifically to allow more time for folks who cast provisional ballots to come by and provide the documentation or clarification necessary to have their votes counted.

The election board plans to certify Gwinnett’s election results during a meeting scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Day said that, on average, about 90 percent of provisional ballots are approved.

“They really aren’t counted until Tuesday when we certify the election results,” Day said, “but they’re doing all the pre-processing that you have to do, and the research to see whether or not somebody’s claim is valid.”