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(EDITOR’S NOTE, 10/18/18, 1:02 AM ET: This article has been updated to include a quote from Gwinnett County, Georgia NAACP President Penny Poole.)

Little incidental acts of suppressing minority votes in Georgia is increasingly looking like a deliberate, statewide effort. The Coalition for Good Governance just hit Gwinnett County — which sits near the predominantly black city of Atlanta — with a complaint over its suspiciously high rate of rejections for mail-in ballots.

The organization claims the state of Georgia, and Gwinnett County in particular, “have a history of rejecting an alarmingly high percentage of mail ballots.” The complaint cites an MIT Election Data and Science Lab’s Election Performance Index that ranked Georgia as eighth-worst in the nation for high numbers of rejections of mail-in ballots.

In the 2016 general election, for example, Gwinnett County (which is nearly 50 percent black and Hispanic according to Census records) rejected almost 1,200 mail-in ballots sent before the deadline, out of a total of 20,120 mail-in ballots cast—a six percent rejection rate. That rate crept to eight percent during the May 2018 primary, and then up to 9.6 percent by October. Neighboring Morgan County (which is 74 percent white according to Census records) rejected only three mail-in ballots.

Nobody can easily blame the problem on the chaos of a high caseload. Fulton County, home to slightly more than 1 million Atlanta residents, rejected no mail ballots as of October 12, 2018.

Plaintiffs say the rejected ballots have a suspiciously high rate of being minority ballots. Despite the number of black and white mail-in ballot voters being nearly the same in October, more than twice as many black voters got rejected. A total 171 black voters’ ballots got tossed, compared to only 66 white voters’ ballots.

John Powers, an attorney with pro-democracy group the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, issued a letter of concern to county leaders, questioning the racist swing of the rejections. He explained that voters needed to know well in advance if their ballot was to be rejected.

The rejection rate appears to fit an intentional pattern under Secretary of State Brain Kemp (and current Republican gubernatorial candidate), who has worked hard to disenfranchise minority voters in Georgia voters. Kemp instituted new registration and vote restrictions, including onerous ID match requirements, vote purges, and, most recently, an infamous move to hold more than 50,000 largely-black vote registrations over things like missing last-name hyphens.

A slate of prosecutions also targeted GOTV efforts in Georgia since the election of the nation’s first black president. Kemp presides over the Georgia State Election Board, which hands down vote-related investigations to local county DAs, who may or may not decide to prosecute. Critics claim some of those cases amount to wrongful prosecution to scare voters.

Gwinnett County NAACP President Penny Poole told Grit Post that the county has steadily been increasing its minority population, which votes Democratic, even as the politicians in power remain white. “The population is shifting,” Poole said. “In the 2016 election, Gwinnett County went blue. The people in power are entrenched, and they’re not trying to surrender any power.”

Georgia grandmother and NAACP member Olivia Pearson managed to beat back bogus election fraud charges stemming from Kemp’s allies last year, and said that some of Georgia’s elected leaders are discouraging votes because they are increasingly afraid of their own voters.

“It’s all about manipulation and hanging onto their power, and this is being exemplified by their actions,” Pearson told Grit Post. She added that her own run-in with wrongful prosecution still has her shaken, but she remains committed to encouraging residents to get to the polls.

The Gwinnett suit names Kemp as a second defendant in the suit. Candice Brice, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, told reporters that the processing of mail-in ballots is handled by local people and that state officials aren’t involved. She went on to say that Kemp’s office “will not be bullied by out-of-state organizations or political operatives who want to generate headlines and advance a baseless narrative,” despite all three plaintiffs in the case being Georgia residents.

 

Adam Lynch is a part-time “word-puncher” in Jackson, Mississippi. Battle with him on Twitter @A_damn_Lynch. He’s also on Facebook, if that’s still a thing.

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