A Gwinnett County resident participates in a special voting during early voting at the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections building in Lawrenceville, Monday, February 25, 2019. The special ballot asks Gwinnett County residence to approve or disapprove a contract for provisions to expand public transportation to the county. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Lawsuit: Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton unprepared for large elections

A new federal lawsuit accuses Georgia’s four most populous counties of not being sufficiently prepared to hold high-turnout elections.

The suit, filed Monday in United States District Court in Atlanta, claims that the governments of Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties did not provide enough polling places, voting machines and staff during the turbulent mid-term election of Nov. 2018.

It asks the court to order the counties to enact changes before the 2020 election season that would prevent voters from waiting in “unreasonably long lines” on Election Day and allow staff to more quickly process registration forms and absentee ballot applications.

The suit, filed by the ACLU of Georgia on behalf of an organization called Georgia Shift, acknowledges that state law governs elections but argues that operational problems are “directly traceable” to counties.

“For too long, our large metropolitan counties — where large numbers of potential voters reside — have failed to provide the tools required for their elections boards to do their job,” ACLU of Georgia executive director Andrea Young said in a news release. “The sacred, constitutional right to vote for every Georgia citizen hangs in the balance.”

Representatives from Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties said Tuesday that their counties would not comment on the pending litigation.

All four counties drew focus of voting rights groups during last November’s election season. Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton all had long lines because they offered fewer voting machines than usual, but Gwinnett drew much of activists’ attention as it became a focal point in a statewide debate over voting rights.

Because of Gwinnett’s rapidly changing demographics and its political leanings that have moved leftward, campaigns of Democrats Stacey Abrams and Carolyn Bourdeaux focused much of their efforts in the county. The revelation that Gwinnett had rejected a disproportionate number of absentee ballots compared to other counties gave those campaigns and other advocacy groups more ammunition.

Multiple lawsuits were filed targeting various perceived issues; some resulted in previously rejected ballots being counted.

Gwinnett officials have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying they were doing things like evaluating absentee ballots in accordance with their interpretation of state law.

While the new suit this week asks for changes to be put into effect prior to the 2020 election, it does not mention Gwinnett County’s March 19 special election on joining MARTA, early voting for which is already well underway. County officials have said they’re treating the election as if it’s a mid-term, even though it’s likely to have only a portion of the turnout.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.