Atlanta Attorney Bruce Brown. Photo: John Disney/ALM Atlanta attorney Bruce Brown. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A new federal lawsuit is sounding more alarms about the security and accuracy of Georgia’s midterm election, citing arbitrary and allegedly capricious practices that are causing “unacceptably high” rejections of absentee ballots.

The suit, filed late Monday in federal court in Atlanta, also singles out Gwinnett County for an escalating number of absentee ballot rejections. What was once a majority white bedroom community north of Atlanta has become a predominantly minority county still largely governed by white officials.

The suit contends that 171 African-American voters’ ballots were rejected and 66 white voters’ ballots were rejected through Oct. 12. It also contends that, while Asian and Pacific Islanders constituted about 15 percent of the mail ballot voters through Oct. 12,  25 percent of those mail ballots were rejected.

The suit was filed amid growing concerns and nationwide publicity about Georgia’s antiquated computer voting machines and the outdated infrastructure supporting it. It contends that applications for paper absentee ballots have surged and that many candidates are urging Georgians to vote by mail in order to ensure their ballots are counted.

But that may not be the case, the suit contends. It says that ballots are being rejected for “even the smallest clerical error or a question about a voter’s signature,” and if a voter fills in the date he or she signs the ballot rather than their date of birth.

Those determinations are being made without the oversight of supervisors or poll watchers, the lawsuit contends.

Atlanta attorney Bruce Brown filed the complaint on behalf of two Gwinnett County voters, one of whom works for a Democratic candidate for Congress, a Fulton County voter, a Democratic candidate running for a Georgia House district in Gwinnett and the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state. It names Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor on the Republican ticket, and members of the state and Gwinnett County election boards as defendants.

Gwinnett County election officials rejected 6 percent of its absentee ballots prior to the 2016 presidential election, according to the complaint. In the May 2018 primary, it rejected 9.6 percent of the ballots, according to the suit. Through Oct. 12, the county has rejected 9.6 percent of the absentee ballots sent in advance of Nov. 6 election.

Meanwhile, Fulton County, the state’s most populous county, has rejected no mail ballots as of Oct. 12.

Even though state law requires prompt notification to electors whose absentee ballots are rejected, the suit alleges that any mailed ballots with discrepancies received on or the day before Election Day “would have almost no chance of cure given that, unlike provisional ballots of polling place voters, there are no post-Election Day cure processes that apply to mail ballots.”

Georgia law also forbids voters from personally delivering mail ballots to their home precinct on Election Day and instead requires that they go only to their county’s central election office. Georgia law also bars voters from marking their mail ballots on Election Day, even if the ballot is hand-delivered.

The suit seeks an injunction that would direct state election officials to decide within three days of its receipt whether an absentee ballot is defective, notify the voter within 24 hours, send the voter a new application that includes reasons for the prior rejection and instructions on how to cure it.

It seeks to curtail ballot rejections because of signature discrepancies by requiring county election officials to immediately establish bipartisan signature review committees.

The suit also asks that mail ballots not be rejected because of an incorrect or missing date of birth.

“The plaintiffs brought this suit because the Georgia election officials, under the direction of Secretary Kemp, are rejecting perfectly valid ballots from eligible voters for arbitrary and capricious reasons and not giving the voters a reasonable opportunity to fix the perceived mistakes,” Brown said. “These election officials should want and encourage people to vote, and help them cast a vote, but instead some are using everything at their disposal to deny these people–many of them elderly and disabled—this fundamental political right. We hope that Secretary Kemp, rather than fight this lawsuit, simply does the right thing and orders election officials statewide to give mail ballot voters a reasonable opportunity to cure any perceived mistakes in their paperwork.”

Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said Tuesday that, under state law, voter eligibility for absentee mail ballots is “solely determined by local officials.”

“The secretary of state cannot and does not make those calls,” she said, adding that the state election board does not make those determinations either.

The Daily Report has contacted Gwinnett County’s spokesman for comment on the complaint and is awaiting his reply.