DeKalb County is one of four metro counties sued by the ACLU of Georgia this week for failing to provide sufficient resources for enough polling places, voting machines, and staff to run a proper high-turnout election.

The other counties, named in the lawsuit  filed March 11 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia,  are Gwinnett, Cobb and Fulton. They are the Georgia’s most populous counties, and together account for more than 2.2 million of the state’s 6.6 million registered voters. 

During the Nov. 6, 2018 elections,  the ACLU said they generated 3,767  complaints about long lines, machine malfunctions, and other registration issues.

The 11-page lawsuit, filed by the ACLU Voting Rights Project and Dechert LLP on behalf of Georgia Shift,  said that the counties “failed to provide their Boards of Elections enough polling places, voting machines, and elections staff in recent elections, resulting in voter disenfranchisement that undermines our democracy.

Georgia Shift is  described in the lawsuit as  “a civic organization that gives marginalized young people, including young people of color, a seat at the table of democracy through electoral action, hands-on education, and civic media programs.” 

It is seeking a judgment from the court:

  • declaring that all four counties have violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution;
  • that they take all necessary actions in advance of the 2020 elections to protect voters by reforming and improving their election procedures to comply with the Fourteenth Amendment and applicable laws, including, but not limited to, publicly announcing the steps taken to provide sufficient resources for the Boards of Elections to run a proper election in 2020 and beyond, any other such action that may be necessary to not burden voters and their right to vote, and
  • that the Court issue an injunction requiring the counties to provide enough polling places, voting machines, and elections staff to prevent voters from having to wait in unreasonably long lines on Election Day, and that will allow elections officials to process all registration forms and absentee ballot applications within one day of receipt.

The lawsuit comes in the wake of the November 2018 elections, which were plagued by a lack of polling places, lack of sufficient voting machines, voting machine malfunctions, inadequate supplies of provisional ballots, inadequate amount of staff –  all of which the ACLU said combined to result in “unreasonably long lines” on election day, which caused some voters to wait  up to four hours to vote.

“Forcing voters to stand in line for such extraordinary lengths of time results in disenfranchisement that is inexcusable,” the lawsuit said, adding that  due to a shortage of staff, there were inordinate delays in the processing of registration forms, resulting in validly-registered voters not appearing on the rolls during the early voting period, and inordinate delays in the processing of absentee ballot applications or absentee ballots, resulting in absentee voters receiving their ballots too late to mail them in so that they arrive by election day.

ACLU sues DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton counties to prevent repeat of election problems

Andrea Young, ACLU of Georgia executive director

Andrea Young, ACLU’s executive director, said that  “for too long, Georgia’s  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.

“The sacred, constitutional right to vote for every Georgia citizen hangs in the balance,” Young said.

The lawsuit pointed out that on election day, one organization received 1,432 complaints from electors in Fulton County;  1,159 complaints from those in DeKalb County;  640 complaints from Gwinnett County, and 536 complaints from Cobb County about long lines, machine malfunctions, and other registration issues.

It said that County Boards of Elections and elections staff were constrained in their ability to address the 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.

“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,” the lawsuit  said.

 “Defendants’ failure to provide their elections staff with the tools necessary to run an election resulted in extremely long lines on Election Day and failures to timely process registration forms, absentee ballot applications, and absentee ballots, resulting in unreasonable and severe burdens on the right to vote,” it said. “There continues to be no indication thus far that the counties intend to resolve these problems, which will continue unless the court intervenes.”

 “Unpreparedness for elections even in the slightest sense (such as the failure to provide power cords to voting machines) can trigger four-hour long lines that result in an undue burden on the right to vote. The counties have also failed to provide sufficient elections staff, which results in the delayed processing of registration forms preventing newly-registered voters from voting during the early voting period, and the delayed processing of absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots, resulting in outright disenfranchisement of absentee voters who did not receive their ballots in the mail until it was too late,” the lawsuit said.

It adds that though the state bears its own responsibility for enacting laws and policies that protect the fundamental right to vote, under correct Georgia law, the widespread operational problems described above are directly traceable to the counties.

“The failure of Gwinnett County, Fulton County, DeKalb County, and Cobb County to provide the necessary tools for running an election is a failure of constitutional proportions,” the lawsuit said. “While the county governments have attempted to deflect criticism by blaming past problems on higher than expected voter turnout, the very term “high-turnout election” – those in which approximately 57 percent of registered voters attempt to cast a ballot – is a cynical misnomer. 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,” the lawsuit said.