Georgia opens probe of unmailed Cobb County absentee ballots after lawsuit

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger gives an afternoon update on the Georgia Primary Election at the election command center in Atlanta, Georgia, May 24, 2022.

Alyssa Pointer | Reuters

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Georgia’s secretary of state opened an investigation Monday into the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration’s failure to mail more than 1,000 absentee ballots to voters, after two civil rights groups filed a lawsuit related to that situation.

Within hours of the investigation being announced, a lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told NBC News that Cobb County agreed to extend the absentee ballot deadline to Nov. 14.

The probe was announced a day before Election Day, when one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, all of the state’s congressional districts and its governor’s office are up for grabs.

In the Senate race, polls show a statistical deadlock between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, the former football star who is the Republican nominee. The contest is one of a handful that will decide which party controls the Senate.

In a statement, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office called the unmailed ballots “unacceptable.”

“We have opened an investigation and will refer to the State elections board to determine appropriate consequences,” the office said.

Raffensperger, who is the state’s top election official, is one of the defendants in the lawsuit, along with Cobb County board officials and the state election board.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit Sunday in county Superior Court on behalf of four Cobb County voters.

The suit says the Cobb County Election Board had failed to send absentee ballots in a timely fashion to all voters whose applications for such ballots had been accepted.

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“The Cobb Board failed to timely send absentee ballots, for instance, to approximately 1,036 voters whose absentee ballot applications had been marked as issued on October 13, 2022, and October 22, 2022,” the suit filed Sunday said.

“It is expected that ballots marked as issued on other dates were also not timely processed or mailed,” the suit said.

The suit said that without emergency action by a judge, “hundreds of Cobb County voters are on the brink of disenfranchisement.”

The suit asked a judge to order the election board to overnight mail absentee ballots to voters who had not already been mailed those ballots overnight, and extend the receipt deadline for all absentee ballots in the class of voters covered by the suit.

“Absent relief, these voters will likely not be able to participate in the November 8, 2022 general election despite properly registering to vote, requesting their absentee ballot by the absentee ballot request deadline, and often contacting the Cobb Board multiple times on their own to find out about the status of their absentee ballot request,” the suit said.

The Cobb County board did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Saturday, the board issued a statement saying that it opened a probe into the ballots after some residents reported not receiving them.

Elections and Registration Director Janine Eveler blamed the situation on what the statement called “human error, with new staff not following procedures on two days to ensure ballots were mailed.”

Eveler told the board, “I am sorry that this office let these voters down.”

“Many of the absentee staff have been averaging 80 or more hours per week, and they are exhausted,” she said. “Still, that is no excuse for such a critical error.”

The board said that “elections staff overnighted absentee ballots to 83 out-of-state addresses and included pre-paid overnight return envelopes.”

“They had already overnighted ballots to 194 residents from that group who had requested ballots,” the statement said. “Records show another 271 residents in that group had canceled their ballot request and voted during Advance Voting. The remaining 498 residents identified are urged to vote in person on election day.”

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