Appeals court: Spanish-language absentee applications weren’t required

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Ruling affirms dismissal of suit over Gwinnett absentee applications

A federal appeals court Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that alleged Georgia should have been required to mail Spanish-language absentee ballot applications to Gwinnett County voters before the 2020 primary election.

The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that while Gwinnett County must translate election materials under the Voting Rights Act, that mandate didn’t apply to absentee ballot applications sent by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The case arose from Raffensperger’s decision to mail English-language absentee ballot applications to 6.9 million Georgia voters in spring 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, encouraging them to vote from home and avoid human contact at polling places.

Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia that’s required to provide voting materials in Spanish because of the number of its Spanish-speaking residents. But the appeals court found that absentee applications mailed by state election officials to Gwinnett voters aren’t covered by that requirement.

“Nothing in the statute requires Gwinnett County to translate voting materials provided by another entity,” wrote Circuit Judge Barbara Lagoa, who was joined by Chief Judge William Pryor and Senior District Judge Harvey Schlesinger.

The Voting Rights Act calls for bilingual ballot access when more than 5% or 10,000 citizens of voting age are members of a single language minority and have difficulty speaking English. Census data shows that 22% of Gwinnett’s population is Hispanic.

The appeals court found that a district judge erred when he ruled that the plaintiffs, led by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, lacked standing. But the court affirmed the dismissal of the case based on its merits.