Absentee ballots delayed in Gwinnett because of large envelopes

Poll worker Brittni Nix waits to assist voters during special election voting in Dacula in March. A civil rights group said Gwinnett County was required to send Spanish-language absentee ballot applications, but an attorney for the elections board disagrees. ALYSSA POINTER / AJC FILE PHOTO

Tens of thousands of absentee ballots requested in Gwinnett County haven’t yet been mailed to voters because of delays caused by an unusually large ballot envelope.

Gwinnett increased the size of its ballot envelope as the result of a court settlement in March that required larger type sizes and clearer instructions in response to a lawsuit over high numbers of ballot rejections.

The big ballot envelope, which measures 6.5 inches by 11 inches, takes more time to process by an Albany, New York-based company that Gwinnett hired.

“This is why Elections Administration 101 is to not change the rules in the middle of the game,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Friday. “Georgia’s elections staff and poll workers have a large enough task ahead of them executing an election during a pandemic without shortsighted and uninformed activist lawsuits burdening them with impractical bureaucratic hurdles.”

Bianca Keaton, chairwoman of Gwinnett’s Democratic Party, countered Raffensperger’s claim, saying his office had negotiated and agreed to the settlement months ago. She called his statement “disingenuous,” saying it was “some of the ugliest political posturing.”

“Elections Administration 101 is to make sure all eligible voters can vote, period,” said Keaton, whose local branch of the Democratic Party wasn’t part of the lawsuit. “Free and fair elections. That’s Elections 101, and they’ve been failing at it.”

Gwinnett Elections Supervisor Kristi Royston said 65% of absentee ballots requested had been mailed by the end of the day Thursday. Of the 127,921 absentee ballots that have been requested, 83,534 have been mailed.

Across Georgia, over 1.2 million of the 1.4 million absentee ballots requested have been mailed, although processing times and high volume have kept some voters waiting.

The court settlement was an agreement between the plaintiffs, which include the Democratic Party of Georgia and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the defendants, including Raffensperger and Gwinnett County.

The lawsuit contested the ballot envelope used in previous elections, which was cramped with small type to fit required English and Spanish languages. Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia required by federal law to print election materials in Spanish because of its high Latino population.

Royston said the parties went through various options, including larger envelopes that would have cost more to mail, before finally agreeing Sept. 11 to the envelope that’s in use. Some of the delays in mailing have come because the envelope isn’t a standard size, requiring equipment changes.

Even with the delays, she said, there’s plenty of time to vote absentee — especially if voters return their ballots in drop boxes in the county.

“We run our processes no matter what’s going on,” she said. “We still believe our voters have time to get their ballots, get them voted and get them back in.”

The number of ballot rejections for incorrect signatures or missing information dropped during this year’s primary in Gwinnett and across Georgia.

Over 100 counties are using Arizona-based Runbeck Election Services to process absentee ballots until mid-October, but Gwinnett had to find a different company, Fort Orange Press, because of the unusual ballot size. Some counties are handling absentee ballot processing and mailing locally.

Voters can check their absentee ballot status on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov and track their ballot through georgia.ballottrax.net.

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