Gwinnett poll official loses job over offensive comment

A Gwinnett County poll worker has lost her job after a Latino rights group accused her of saying she didn’t want non-English speaking people at her precinct.

The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials also has asked the U.S. Justice Department to monitor Gwinnett elections to ensure such incidents don’t happen again.

Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO’s executive director, said one his employees was at a polling place on Winder Highway in Lawrenceville during the March 1 presidential primary to help voters who had difficulty understanding English – assistance they are allowed under federal law.

Gonzalez said the employee introduced himself to poll workers to let them know why he was there and one of them “made a racist comment, something to the effect of, `if they can’t speak English, we don’t want them here.’”

Tuesday, at a meeting of the Gwinnett County Board of Elections, Elections Director Lynn Ledford said there is some dispute about what the poll worker — a temporary employee — actually said. But Ledford said the comment was inappropriate – an “Archie Bunker moment” – and the woman is “no longer a poll official.”

“No voter was turned away, and no voter heard it,” she said. “But the (GALEO employee) heard it.”

Gonzalez said it was appropriate to fire the poll worker. But he said Gwinnett’s poll worker training is inadequate to ensure such incidents won’t happen again.

Gonzalez said he’s asked the Justice Department to monitor county elections and training, though the agency has not responded to his complaint. Ledford said she also has not heard from the Justice Department.

“We have a robust and thorough poll official training program,” she said. “The training is constantly changing in order to address changes to the law and to better prepare poll workers for situations they encounter at the polls.”

It’s not the first time GALEO has criticized Gwinnett election officials. The group is threatening to file a lawsuit because the county recently rejected its request to provide Spanish-language ballots in this year’s elections.

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