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Federal Court Rules Neither Georgia Nor Gwinnett County Accountable for Failure to Translate Ballot Applications into Spanish as Required by Federal Law

Georgia Congressional Representative Introduces Bill Clarifying Responsibilities


September 27, 2022

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta, James Woo,

GALEO – Alba Villarreal,

Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda – Edrea Davis (770-961-6200)

New Georgia Project – Paul Glaze, (404) 431-5962

Simran Jadavji, 

Common Cause –  Sarah Ovaska, 

Atlanta, GA — The 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decided last week to deny rehearing of GALEO v. Gwinnett County, et. al., ending a case regarding the failure to send Spanish-language absentee ballot applications to Gwinnett County voters as required by federal law prior to the 2020 presidential primary elections.

“We are extremely disappointed in the court’s decision to allow the Secretary of State and Gwinnett County Board of Elections to abdicate their responsibility to Gwinnett County’s immigrant voters,” said Phi Nguyen, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta (Advancing Justice-Atlanta).

“Voting is a right that the court should seek to protect for all Georgia voters, regardless of what language they speak,” said Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

Due to Gwinnett County’s large population of limited English proficient (LEP) Spanish-speaking voters, Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act requires the county to provide elections materials, including absentee ballot applications, in English and Spanish. In March 2020, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger encouraged Georgians to vote by mail in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mailed English-only applications to Georgia voters, including in Gwinnett County. Gwinnett County election officials also failed to translate these materials into Spanish. 

Several organizations, including GALEO; Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (People’s Agenda); Advancing Justice-Atlanta; the New Georgia Project (NGP) and Common Cause Georgia jointly filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State and Gwinnett County, challenging their failure to provide absentee ballot applications to Gwinnett County voters in both English and Spanish. Secretary Raffensperger defended against the lawsuit by claiming that the state was not obligated to mail Spanish-language absentee ballot applications to Gwinnett County voters since the state is not required under Section 203 to provide elections materials in Spanish.         

“The state and county’s failures to take simple steps to provide meaningful ballot access for language-minority voters shows a lack of consideration for Gwinnett County’s Spanish-speaking communities,” said Jerry Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer of GALEO

Notwithstanding the court’s decision, a bi-partisan bill sponsored by Georgia Representative Nikema Williams, the Expanding the VOTE Act, would help prevent such failures in the future by clarifying the Secretary of State’s obligations to language-minority voters under Section 203. Specifically, the Act would clarify that when states distribute voting materials in counties that are required by federal law to provide materials in other languages, the state is required to provide the materials in those languages, as well.

“Our democracy only thrives when every voter can understand how elections are run and cast their ballot, regardless of their English language proficiency. The VOTE Act will make that reality, strengthening the Voting Rights Act and providing critical resources for local governments to make election materials accessible to all their constituents,” said Aunna Dennis, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia.

“We believe this bill strengthens the spirit and the letter of the Voting Rights Act. The VRA’s purpose is to remove obstacles to voting such as literacy tests, and to defend the right to vote for minority populations,” said Aklima Khondoker, Chief Legal Officer of the New Georgia Project.

About GALEO. GALEO’s mission is to increase civic engagement and leadership development of the Latino/Hispanic community across Georgia.  GALEO strives for a better Georgia where the Latino community is engaged civically and its contributions and concerns are recognized.

About Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta is the first nonprofit legal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander (AANHPI) and Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities in Georgia and the Southeast. Advancing Justice-Atlanta’s work encompasses policy advocacy, organizing & civic engagement, impact litigation, and immigration legal services. Its vision is to build a social movement in which communities of color are fully empowered, active in civic life, and working together to promote equity, fair treatment, and self determination for all.

About the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda. The Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda (GCPA) was founded by Dr. Joseph E. Lowery and is based in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a coalition of more than 30 organizations, which collectively have more than 5,000 individual members. The mission of the GCPA is to improve the quality of governance in Georgia; to help create a more informed and active electorate; and to have responsive and accountable elected officials. In addition to a primary focus upon voting empowerment and civic engagement, the GCPA maintains active committees on Education, Criminal Injustice and Environmental Justice.

About Common Cause Georgia. Common Cause Georgia is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization that works to strengthen public participation in our democracy and ensure that public officials and public institutions are accountable and responsive to citizens. Through a powerful combination of coalition building, lobbying and litigation, grassroots organizing, policy development, research, and public education, we spotlight local, state and national issues that affect every Georgian.

About the New Georgia Project. The New Georgia Project (NGP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to building power with and increasing the civic participation of the New Georgia Majority—Black, Latinx, AAPI, and young Georgians—and other historically marginalized communities, through nonpartisan voter registration, organizing, and advocacy on the issues important to our communities.

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