POLITICS

ACLU Sues Georgia Counties Over Inadequate Election Resources

The civil liberties group says long lines at the polls and delays in processing voter registrations and absentee ballots amount to a constitutional violation.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing four of the largest Georgia counties for failing to provide adequate resources at the polls on Election Day in 2018. The suit comes months after reports that people waited in line for hours to vote and a contentious gubernatorial race stained by accusations of voter suppression.

The suit, filed in federal court in Atlanta, accuses officials in Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb counties of not offering voters enough “polling places, voting machines, and elections staff in recent elections.” Those inadequate resources, the suit says, produced long lines on Election Day and meant it took longer to process voter registrations and absentee ballots, creating an “undue burden” on the right to vote.

The complaint alludes to stories of horrific waits in November as local officials scrambled to accommodate voters. In Atlanta, which is in Fulton County, officials at one polling location initially had just three voting machines as voters waited in line for hours (the county deployed five more machines). In Gwinnett County, voters waited hours in line because the batteries in the voting machines died and workers needed to get power cords.

Republican Brian Kemp (R) defeated Stacey Abrams (D) in the Georgia governor's race in November. The race was filled with acc
Republican Brian Kemp (R) defeated Stacey Abrams (D) in the Georgia governor's race in November. The race was filled with accusations of voter suppression.

“County Boards of Elections and elections staff were constrained in their ability to address these problems due to the failure of each county, through their Boards of Commissioners, to provide them the tools that they needed to prevent these problems,” the ACLU lawyers wrote. “More fundamentally, since the 2018 election, the defendant counties have failed to undertake meaningful efforts to improve the functions of the election system to ensure that these problems do not recur.”

Spokesmen for Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties declined to comment on the suit. Fulton County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said long lines and delays were a mechanism that prevented many from voting.

“For the less privileged members of our society ―  people who are hourly workers, who are lower income, who are riding public transportation in order to cast their ballot ― these kinds of irregularities, these long lines, the delays essentially prevent them from having access to the right to vote,” Young said. “Bureaucracy can’t be an excuse that blocks people from exercising their sacred right to vote. ”

Young added that local officials had failed to seriously consider changing election demand as the population in the metro Atlanta area increased.

ACLU lawyers said the delays in Georgia amounted to a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection of the law and protects the right to vote. They said the delays could not be explained by chaos resulting from higher-than-expected election turnout.

“Counties are constitutionally required to ensure that all elections do not result in widespread burdens on the right to vote, and should strive for turnout exceeding that of what the counties have labeled ‘high turnout elections’ to be the norm,” they wrote.

Bureaucracy can’t be an excuse that blocks people from exercising their sacred right to vote. Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia

In its complaint, the ACLU asks the federal court to require the four counties to provide enough polling places, voting machines and staff so that people don’t have to wait in “unreasonably long” lines on Election Day.

The complaint filed Tuesday leaves questions about what exactly the Georgia counties would need to do to comply with the Constitution. It doesn’t say how long a wait, if any, or how many staffers at the polls would be constitutionally permissible. It also doesn’t make an allegation of racial discrimination, though Young said the issues at the polls disproportionately affected young and minority voters. 

No individual voters were named in the suit filed Tuesday. The sole plaintiff was Georgia Shift, a civic action group that focused on voter registration work in the four counties.

Republican Brian Kemp defeated Democrat Stacey Abrams in the state’s gubernatorial race in November, but Abrams maintains that voter suppression tilted the race for Kemp. Abrams and other Democrats called on Kemp to resign from his post as secretary of state, the state’s top election official, while he was running for governor, but he refused. He also faced scrutiny over a policy that led 58,000 voter registrations to be placed on hold in Georgia ― nearly 70 percent of the names on the list belonged to African-Americans. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating the accusations of voter suppression.

Learn more about Georgia’s election difficulties in “Shut Out,” a HuffPost podcast about the fight to vote in America.

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