Gwinnett counts provisional ballots

Groups on both sides of the voter access issue crowded into the Gwinnett County Board of Elections meeting on Tuesday afternoon. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Groups on both sides of the voter access issue crowded into the Gwinnett County Board of Elections meeting on Tuesday afternoon. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

UPDATE: At 10:30 p.m., more than eight hours after it originally convened, the Gwinnett County elections board voted to formally accept nearly 2,000 provisional ballots.

Those included enough to pull Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux more than 300 votes closer to Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in Georgia's 7th Congressional District.

In a filing submitted Wednesday morning as part of an ongoing lawsuit, Gwinnett officials said the county had received just over 2,600 provisional ballots and had accepted 1,868.

A total of 734 provisional ballots were rejected, according to the county.

PREVIOUS STORY: Gwinnett County will not certify its elections results Tuesday, and will take two more days to re-evaluate a few hundred absentee ballots that were rejected.

But the county elections board still plans to officially count provisional ballots, which could play a significant role in a the 7th Congressional District race as well as the governor’s contest.

Gwinnett began scanning provisional ballots around 1 p.m. and the elections board started its meeting shortly after 2 p.m. Less than five minutes later, they went into executive session to discuss pending litigation.

Gwinnett — a longtime Republican stronghold where Democrats are starting to make waves — has been in the spotlight throughout this election season. That spotlight doesn't appear likely to dim anytime soon.

When the board left for executive session, close to 100 people gathered inside their roughly 40-seat meeting room lingered to wait. Those gathered included a group decrying Democratic governor candidate Stacey Abrams’ decision not to concede, waving signs with the hashtag “Stop the Steal.” The other half of the room included voting rights advocates and representatives from the Democratic Party.

Things grew contentious — and loud — before the board returned and announced it would not be certifying the county’s election results as scheduled.

Elections board chairman Stephen Day said it would take about two days to re-evaluate absentee ballots that were rejected due to missing birth year information, in accordance with a new order from U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May. Officials said there were about 300 such ballots to be reconsidered.

A new special meeting for certification was scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday.

The elections board was still waiting Tuesday, meanwhile, for the final count of provisional ballots so it could submit a number to the state.

Officials have previously said the county received between 2,400 and 2,500 such ballots, including around 1,500 believed to be cast in the tightly contested race in the 7th Congressional District. The county has not revealed how many of those ballots might ultimately be accepted.

The 7th district race currently sits with incumbent Rep. Rob Woodall leading Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux by about 900 votes. Additional votes could also play a role in the governor’s race, which Democrat Stacey Abrams has refused to concede.

Litigation abounds

Gwinnett County is named alongside now-former Secretary of State Brian Kemp in multiple lawsuits, targeted for what voting and civil rights groups have identified as a disproportionately high rate of absentee and provisional ballot rejections.

Gwinnett officials have repeatedly defended their practices, saying they are evaluating ballots in accordance with state law.

But in October, a federal judge issued an injunction ordering Gwinnett and other counties to provide more protections for absentee voters rejected because of signature-related issues. On Monday night, interim Secretary of State Robyn Crittenden instructed county elections officials to count absentee ballots even if they lack a voter's birth date, as long as the voter's identity can be verified.

U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May issued an order backing up Crittenden’s instructions on Tuesday morning. That is the order that triggered Gwinnett’s delayed certification.

Bourdeaux has also joined litigation against Gwinnett, claiming it has rejected a large number of absentee and provisional ballots for trivial reasons.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Totenberg also issued an order Monday night ordering elections offices to review thousands of provisional ballots that hadn't been counted.

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