ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

cloudy-day
86°
Partly Cloudy
H -° L 74°
  • cloudy-day
    86°
    Current Conditions
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 74°
  • cloudy-day
    Today
    Partly Cloudy. H -° L 74°
  • partly-cloudy-tstorms-day
    90°
    Tomorrow
    Partly Cloudy T-storms. H 90° L 73°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Local Govt & Politics
Voting, civil rights groups home in on Gwinnett’s absentee rejections
Close

Voting, civil rights groups home in on Gwinnett’s absentee rejections

Voting, civil rights groups home in on Gwinnett’s absentee rejections
Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A photo of a Gwinnett County absentee ballot envelope. (CONTRIBUTED)

Voting, civil rights groups home in on Gwinnett’s absentee rejections

Gwinnett County has become ground zero in the fight over alleged voter suppression in Georgia, with voting advocates and civil rights groups homing in on what they’ve deem the “excessive rejection” of absentee ballots.

Two separate suits filed this week in U.S. District Court in Atlanta name Secretary of State Brian Kemp and the Gwinnett County elections board as defendants.

One brought by the Coalition for Good Governance asks a judge to order that all rejected absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications be reviewed and reinstated if at all possible. Another filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two other advocacy groups makes similar demands, as does a letter sent to Gwinnett County officials by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

All of the actions come amid media reports, including those by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, that found Gwinnett County was throwing out a disproportionate number of such ballots.

Through Sunday, Gwinnett County had rejected about 8.5 percent of absentee ballots, an AJC analysis found. Across Georgia, less than 2 percent had been rejected.

Gwinnett’s 390 rejected ballots accounted for about 37 percent of the total rejected ballots statewide.

Analysis by the Lawyers Committee suggested that the rejections affected Asian, black and Latino voters at greater rates than white voters. More than 60 percent of Gwinnett residents are non-white.

Gwinnett County has denied any wrongdoing.

The most frequent reason Gwinnett election officials rejected absentee ballots was for “insufficient oath information” — that is, signatures, birth dates and addresses.

“The penalty for even the smallest clerical error or a question about the voter’s signature is disenfranchisement, with no meaningful opportunity to cure any perceived discrepancy,” the Coalition for Good Governance lawsuit says.

The suit asks for a number of “preliminary and permanent” remedies to be ordered by a judge. Those include the reinstatement of “any mail ballot that was previously rejected for the sole reason of an incorrect or missing year of birth” and an order that such ballots not be rejected in the future.

The suit also asks a judge to require rejected voters be notified by one-day business mail, telephone and email, and for counties to form “bi-partisan signature review teams” to weigh in before ballots are rejected due to potential signature inconsistencies.

Further, it asks for voters to be given until the Friday after Election Day to resolve any mail ballot eligibility questions.

Advance, in-person voting for the Nov. 6 general election began Monday.

“We are asking the Court to intervene to stop these unjust actions in advance of the November election,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance.

Gwinnett officials’ comments on the situation had been limited, except to say they are following state law. County spokesman Joe Sorenson expounded a bit more late Tuesday, saying that the county is “committed to a process that protects the voting rights of all of its citizens.” 

“The [Coalition for Good Governance lawsuit] is filed by five plaintiffs, only two of whom are Gwinnett County residents,” Sorenson wrote in an email. “Neither of the county residents has yet applied for absentee ballots. Notably, none of the allegations assert any violations of the law by the Gwinnett County Board of Registration and Elections or the county.”

Also on Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s Office doubled down on earlier statements saying it’s up to individual counties to decide how to process its absentee ballots. But spokeswoman Candice Broce also said the office had opened an investigation to ensure that counties are “following the law in making these determinations.”

“We will not be bullied by out-of-state organizations or political operatives who want to generate headlines and advance a baseless narrative,” Broce said. “We will do our part to keep elections secure, accessible and fair in Georgia.”

Kemp — who is running for governor in a hotly contested race — is under fire for what some see as an effort by his office to undermine voting rights.

News emerged last week that more than 53,000 Georgia voter registrations were on hold because of discrepancies between registration applications and government records. Under the state’s “exact match” law, registration applications can be put in pending status even for small inconsistencies, such as a missing hyphen in a last name or a typo.

Potential voters whose registrations are pending can still cast ballots if they verify their information with a state driver’s license or other form of photo ID.

The lawsuit that the ACLU filed Tuesday on behalf of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice focuses more specifically on signature matches. It asks the court to allow absentee voters rejected because of signatures “the opportunity to confirm their identity or otherwise resolve the alleged discrepancy.”

Sally Spelbring, 67, of Lawrenceville, usually votes by mail because she’s in a wheelchair and it makes things much easier.

But Monday, for the first time ever, she got a letter saying that her ballot had been rejected because it was determined her signature didn’t match those from the past.

“I have been able to vote this way for 10 years, not ever having a problem until now,” said Spelbring, who tends to vote Democratic. “And I’m sure I’m not the only one.”

She said she’s now going to have her husband take her to vote in person.

“I’m gonna vote, come hell or high water,” she said.

Several groups sued the state last week over the “exact match” law, alleging it disproportionately harms minority groups.

Multiple plaintiffs, including the Coalition for Good Governance, also went to court in an unsuccessful attempt to force Georgia to conduct November’s elections with paper ballots.

Theories abound

Though the county has rejected a disproportionate number of absentee ballots, Gwinnett elections board chairman Stephen Day, a Democrat, said there isn’t any kind of “nefarious scheme.” He said he is still investigating the issue, but he did throw out at least one potential explanation.

“Is it possible Gwinnett is strictly following the letter of the law and other counties use more subjective judgment in deciding whether or not a ballot should be rejected?” he wrote in an email to the AJC. “Yes, it is possible that other counties may be operating on the premise that, if other information on the ballot application or ballot oath firmly identifies the voters as is claimed, then the clerical errors should be overlooked. I have no proof of that, that is just a possible explanation.”

Michael McDonald — a University of Florida political scientist who runs the United States Elections Project, which provides data about elections across the country — has developed another theory.

Gwinnett is the only county in Georgia that, because of its high share of Latino residents, is federally mandated to provide elections materials in both English and Spanish. The current election season is just the second time that such bilingual materials are being utilized.

“In attempting to comply with Section 203 (of the federal Voting Rights Act), Gwinnett County election officials appear to have created a confusing envelope, which places English and Spanish directions side-by-side when requesting a key piece of information, a voter’s year of birth,” McDonald said. “As a result, Gwinnett has rejected 180 or more absentee ballots because voters failed to provide a correct birth year. This is far more than any other county reports.”

McDonald said that, while he believes the envelope design could be the most plausible explanation, rejected ballots would have to be reviewed to confirm his suspicions.

Read More

News

  • While plentiful in tropical waters, it’s very unusual to spot the solitary and elusive whale shark in the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of Virginia, but to the delight of a fisherman off the state’s Eastern Shore that’s exactly what happened Saturday morning. >> Read more trending news  Capt. Brian Esteppe told The Virginia-Pilot that he was about 5 miles off shore with two customers who had chartered his boat when he saw the massive fish swimming nearby. “We just kinda see this object appear,” Esteppe told the Pilot, describing it as a “big dark shadow.”Esteppe recorded the encounter and posted the video to social media. “You will not believe this folks,” he said as the shark swam near the boat. “Man, this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. … Oh, my God, that’s so wild.” Whale sharks, an endangered species, are the largest fish in the sea and are found in all the tropical oceans, according to National Geographic. They can grow as large as 40 feet long and weigh as much as 20 tons. They feed predominantly on plankton and small fish. Esteppe said he recognized the shark by the gray and white spots on its body and was able to touch it as it swam by, the Pilot reported. “It was just a beautiful sight,” he said, adding that it “swam off just as graceful as it came in.”
  • Authorities announced on Thursday the arrest of Chuyen Vo in connection to the stabbing death of retired administrator at a college campus in Southern California. >> Read more trending news  The man is suspected of stabbing former California State University Fullerton administrator Steven Shek Keung Chan, 57, to death Monday in a parking lot at the school. 9 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: Neighbors of the suspect said they couldn’t imagine he’d commit such a crime. Vo’s neighbor, Michael Wood, said Vo lived with his wife, mother-in-law and children and had a side job selling life insurance and annuities. Another neighbor, Gloria Venlet, said Vo always was smiling, and she’s stunned by the arrest. No one answered the door at Vo’s home. 5 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: The suspect in the stabbing death of Chan was a co-worker, according to the Washington Post.  Lt. Jon Radus said Thursday that 51-year-old Chuyen Vo was arrested Wednesday night at his home in Huntington Beach. Radus would not comment on the work relationship of the suspect and the victim, 57-year-old Steven Shek Keung Chan. Update 2:35 p.m. EDT Aug. 22: Authorities are expected to announce an arrest in the case at a news conference scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Thursday, KTLA and KABC reported. Police said they found Chan around 8:30 a.m. Monday with several stab wounds in a parking lot on the Cal State Fullerton campus. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities have said they were searching for a suspect in the case, described as an Asian man with black hair in his mid-20s. Police have not identified a suspect by name. Update 12:55 p.m. EDT Aug. 20: Police released a sketch Tuesday of the man suspected of stabbing 57-year-old Steven Shek Keung Chan to death one day earlier in a parking lot at Cal State Fullerton. Authorities said the man was last seen running northbound on Langsdorf Drive and then eastbound on Nutwood Avenue. Police believe he might have been injured in the attack and might have lacerations to one or both of his hands. Police said officers recovered a backpack which they believe belonged to the suspect during their investigation. It was found under Chen's vehicle and contained 'an incendiary device along with numerous items that were consistent with a kidnapping attempt or plot, including zip ties, wigs and other disguise materials,' police said. The bag also contained a knife separate from the one used in Monday's attack, according to authorities. Police believe Chan, who recently returned to the school as a special consultant after retiring as an administrator in 2017, was specifically targeted in the attack, according to authorities and the Los Angeles Times. Police continue to investigate. Original report: Authorities are searching for a suspect after a retired administrator was stabbed and killed Monday on a Southern California college campus. According to the Los Angeles Times, authorities said Steven Shek Keung Chan, 57, of Hacienda Heights, had several stab wounds when police found him in his car, which was parked in a lot on California State University's Fullerton campus, about 8:30 a.m. Monday. Police also discovered an 'incendiary device,' which did not go off, nearby, the newspaper reported. Police believe the assailant specifically targeted Chan, who recently returned as a special consultant after retiring as director of budget and finance and student services for extended education in 2017, the Times reported. In a tweet, university police described the suspect, who reportedly fled the scene and was still on the run late Monday, as an Asian man in his mid-20s with black hair. He was wearing black pants and a black shirt, authorities said. No further information was immediately available. In a letter to students, faculty and staff, university President Framroze Virjee called the attack 'tragic and senseless.' 'As the investigation into Steven’s death is ongoing, we are unable to provide information beyond what the Fullerton Police share publicly,' the letter read. 'What I can do, however, is join all of you in adding to the tremendous outreach of love and support that has already embraced our Titan Family during this tragic and difficult time. That begins with pausing in thought and prayer for Steven, his family, and all Titans who are grieving and grappling with the reality of such an unspeakable act and tragic loss in our community.' >> Read the full letter here Read more here.
  • A woman in Seminole County, Florida, is calling her husband a hero after their family was able to escape a fire that destroyed their home. >> Read more trending news The fire happened Tuesday before 7 a.m. at a mobile home near Altamonte Springs. The couple have a blended family with 10 children ranging from 1 month old to 18 years old. Seven of them were inside the home when it caught fire. Nicole Torres had just dropped off two of the children at school when she pulled back up to her home five minutes later and found it on fire. She said her husband had just lain down when he woke up to find his kitchen in flames. 'He was screaming, 'Fire, fire' running from room to room, trying to get all of our children out.' Her husband had injuries to his arms, feet and shoulders from searching inside the home to get all the children out. One of the boys was trapped in a bedroom and had to be pulled out of a window by the father. 'I will never get this out of my head,' Torres said. 'I will never stop reliving this moment in my head, that I thought my babies were in there burning alive and they survived. He got them out.' The children are now living with Torres' ex-husband, the father of four of the children. He said he took the children in so they wouldn't be split up while the family searches for a new home. 'We will just have to rebuild somehow or another,' Torres said. 'We will get back on our feet.' The fire marshal believes the cause of the fire may an electrical issue.  If you'd like to donate to help the family get back on their feet, click here. 
  • The Medical Examiner’s Office in Fulton County, Georgia, admits it shipped the remains of a suspected murder victim via FedEx, and now it doesn’t know where they are. >> Read more trending news Chief Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak told WSB-TV it sent the remains of Jeffrey Merriweather Jr. to an expert in St. Louis for evaluation in June.  “Since he was partially skeletonized, we couldn’t determine a cause of death,” she said.  However, the remains never made it out of state. Package tracking shows they arrived at a FedEx warehouse in Austell, but no one has seen them since, the news station reported.  Merriweather’s mother Kathleen calls it a “nightmare you can’t wake up from.”  Her husband, Jeffrey Merriweather Sr., said they had to have a funeral service without their son’s body.  “We’re already dealing with the death of him,” he said, “and now this. This is unacceptable to us.”  Merriweather was reported missing June 12 after someone fired shots in the parking lot of an East Point McDonald’s, AJC.com previously reported.  The 31-year-old father of three went to the restaurant on Virginia Avenue the day of the shooting in a black SUV. At some point, he exited the vehicle and got into a white Toyota 4Runner. Then, someone started shooting at the Toyota, police told the news station. Both vehicles drove off, video surveillance footage obtained by WSB-TV showed.  Merriweather was later found dead. The details of what led to his death remain unclear.  A FedEx representative said it is working with the Medical Examiner’s Office to find the missing remains. Gorniak said her office is reviewing policies to make sure this doesn't happen again.  The case remains under investigation. Anyone with information is asked to contact 678-614-7049. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and be eligible for rewards of up to $2,000, by calling Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, texting information to 274637 or visiting the Crime Stoppers website.
  • A 26-year-old man stole a rare miniature schnauzer worth $17,000 from a breeder for whom he worked and took the dog with him to Michigan, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said. >> Read more trending news  Investigators said Jacob Parker Lauer admitted to stealing the breeding dog, named Asiago, from Vera Clark on May 13 before moving to Highland, Michigan. Clark, a dog breeder, said Lauer lived in a trailer behind her home and worked for her, caring for puppies, an arrest report said. The kennel manager notified Clark that Lauer and his husband had not turned up for their shifts and had sent a text message, saying they were leaving and not returning because they were fed up with how they were being treated by Clark, the report said. The report said Clark went to the trailer and saw that the men, their belongings, their car and the dog were gone. Clark asked a deputy to look at the trailer, which he described as being 'impeccably clean,' the report said. 'Nothing was out of order. Nothing was damaged,' the deputy said in the report. 'In fact, the men had stripped the bed and made sure the toilet was flushed.' Clark was reunited with her dog Aug. 11. She said Thursday that the reunion brought her great joy. 'When he came here, it was like Christmas. It was like 10 Christmases,' Clark said. 'The dog is not just a dog. It's a family member, and to many people, it's their child. ... Your heart is ripped into a thousand pieces.' She said the allegations against Lauer were surprising because she was so close to him. 'It was a shock to us because we really depended (on him.) We trusted him,' Clark said. 'I even included him in my trust.' Lauer was charged with grand theft. He was released from the Seminole County Jail on Thursday after paying bail.
  • Actor Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson is the highest paid male actor in the world, according to Forbes' annual list, raking in $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019. >> Read more trending news  The 'Hobbs & Shaw' star has a pretty good deal when it comes to his pay scale, the magazine reported. He collected an upfront payment of $23.5 million for his upcoming movie 'Jumanji: The Next Level,' $700,000 per episode of HBO's 'Ballers' and seven-figure royalties from his Under Armour line. Behind Johnson, at No. 2 and No. 3, are 'Avengers: Endgame' stars Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr., respectively. Hemsworth made an estimated $76.4 million in the past year and Downey collected some $66 million, Forbes reported. Rounding out the top 10 are Akshay Kumar with $65 million in earnings, Jackie Chan with $58 million, Bradley Cooper and Adam Sandler tied at No. 6 and making $57 million each, Chris Evans with $43.5 million, Paul Rudd with with $41 million and Will Smith in the 10th spot earning $35 million. Actor and entrepreneur George Clooney made the top spot on Forbes' list of the highest paid actors last year, with Johnson coming in second.