Because of a rise in its Latino population, Gwinnett County in suburban Atlanta had to mail out absentee ballots with information in both English and Spanish in 2018. The result was chaos. The county accommodated the increased text by printing it in 6.5-point font, making each letter smaller than a sesame seed. Many voters were confused by the instructions — in particular, that they had to sign the back of the yellow envelope before returning it or their votes wouldn’t count. Gwinnett rejected 595 absentee ballots, a third of all those tossed in Georgia, often without notifying the spurned voters. Only a hurried lawsuit by the ACLU forced the county to reexamine the discarded ballots.
The debacle caused in Gwinnett by this relatively minor tweak presents a cautionary lesson for election administrators amid a pandemic-driven flurry of calls for a massive expansion of voting by mail. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced legislation this month to promote and help fund mail-in ballot efforts, and several states that have delayed primaries are mulling whether to conduct them by mail.
“In light of the threats that this virus poses, every American should be able to cast a ballot by mail without excuse,” Klobuchar and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., wrote Friday, urging Congress to include funding for elections in emergency packages. “That means states will have to scale their vote-by-mail processes in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
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