MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A judge on Monday agreed to extend the deadline to return absentee ballots for voters in a suburban Atlanta county who didn't receive their ballots because election officials failed to mail them.
Some of the voters filed a lawsuit Sunday seeking the extension after election officials in Cobb County acknowledged Friday that the county failed to mail out more than 1,000 absentee ballots to voters who had requested them. County elections director Janine Eveler wrote in an email to the county election board that because of staff error, ballots were never created nor sent on two days last month, the lawsuit says.
“We know it wasn’t the voters’ fault, we know it wasn’t the post office’s fault,” said Daniel White, an attorney for the elections office, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This was an administrative error."
As a result of the error, 1,036 voters never received the ballots they requested. State election data shows that about 250 of them had voted in person during early voting. But the lawsuit said many of those whose ballots weren't sent may not be able to vote without action by the court.
Election officials agreed to the lawsuit's demands that the deadline to return ballots be extended and that the voters be contacted and sent an absentee ballot by overnight mail.
During the three weeks of early voting that precede Election Day, election officials are supposed to send out ballots within three days of receiving a request. Voters then have until 7 p.m. on Election Day to return their ballots.
The newspaper reports that Cobb County Superior Court Judge Kellie Hill planned to sign a consent order Monday afternoon to allow the county to accept ballots that are postmarked by Election Day even if they're received later.
Georgia is a battleground state that features a fiercely contested governor's race, as well as a Senate contest between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker that could determine which party controls the narrowly divided chamber. For decades a conservative stronghold, Cobb County in recent years has leaned Democratic as Atlanta's suburbs have diversified and as the GOP has lost support from college-educated white voters.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the voters by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Hundreds of eligible Cobb County voters did everything right and yet find themselves on the brink of total disenfranchisement because they were never mailed their absentee ballots, as is required under Georgia law," Jonathan Topaz, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a news release. "Only this court can right the wrong done to these hundreds of voters and ensure that they are able to exercise their fundamental right to vote in this November election.”
White, the attorney for the election officials said the county will certify election results on Nov. 15 and the extended deadline will “allow our office to accept as many ballots as possible up to the day of certification.”
The county has already sent ballots to out-of-state voters but had not yet sent them to about 450 in-state voters who had requested ballots, the newspaper reported. Election workers were working to contact voters and mailing ballots overnight to ensure receipt.