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Fact check: Gwinnett County, GA did not have more ballots cast than registered voters in the general election

With the results of the Nov. 3 general election not yet called in Georgia, posts on social media claim that there were more ballots counted than registered voters in Gwinnett County, a county in which, as of this article’s publication, President-elect Joe Biden is ahead of President Donald Trump by more than 75,000 votes. This claim, shared amid news of an expected recount and two Senate runoffs in the battleground state, is false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Examples of posts making this claim are:

here , here , and here .

Many users have posted authentic screen shots of the county’s Nov. 3 Election Summary Report( here ). One user accompanied the images with the caption, “Gwinnett County, GA had 581,467 eligible voters on the books. Of that total, 408,268 registered to vote for this election. Explain how they show 811,836 ballots cast? Go ahead. I’ll wait.” ( here )

According to Reuters data at the time of this article’s publication, 100% of expected votes had been counted in Gwinnett County, with 58.4% going to Biden and 40.2% going to Trump ( here ).

Joe Sorenson, communications director for Gwinnett County ( here ), told Reuters via phone that the 811,836 figure listed for “Ballots Cast” is a result of the county’s ballots being printed on two sheets of paper. Before processing the number of votes, Sorenson explained, the tabulators count sheets of paper, which is where 811,836 comes from. As noted above the 811,836 figure in the Election Summary Report, the number of Gwinnett residents who voted in the general election was 408,268, or 70.21% of registered voters.

The length of ballots in Gwinnett County is double that of ballots in other Georgia counties because Gwinnett is the only county in the state covered under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which means that it must print all ballots in both English and Spanish ( here ).

Section 203 requires certain states, counties or county subdivisions to provide “registration or voting notices, forms, instructions, assistance, or other materials or information relating to the electoral process, including ballots” in “the language of the applicable minority group as well as in the English language” ( here ).

A state or political subdivision falls within Section 203 if either 1) more than 5% of voting age citizens have limited English proficiency, or 2) more than 10,000 voting age citizens have limited English proficiency, and the rate of total voting age citizens with limited English proficiency and less than a 5th grade education exceeds the national rate ( here ). Gwinnett County, which is 21.7% Latino or Hispanic ( here ), meets these requirements ( here ).

“Our ballot has to be built differently in order to meet our Spanish language requirements from Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act,” Sorenson explained.

Multiplying by two the total number of Gwinnett County ballots (of which 117,931 votes were by mail, 76,947 were in person on election day, and 216,993 were in person early) to account for the sheets of paper, you get 823,742 sheets rather than the 811,836 “ballots cast” at the top of the report, however.

Sorenson explained that this difference is due to inconsistencies in the way that absentee voters mail back their ballots. For example, an English speaker who received an absentee ballot may have only filled out and mailed back the English section of her ballot, while someone else might have mailed back both sheets. Sorenson said that doing so “causes only one card to be counted for that voter, even though the system expects two cards/ballots from each voter.”

To illustrate this, the Gwinnett County Board of Voter Registrations and Elections provided Reuters via email with a breakdown of the vote and ballot page count in Precinct 001, where there were 7,182 active voters but 10,522 “ballots cast.” The 728 election day votes, each printed on two cards, made up 1,456 of those 10,522 “ballots cast”; the 3,147 early votes made up 6,294; and the nine provisional ballots made up 18. Of the 1,410 voters in the precinct who voted by mail, nearly 98% returned both the English and Spanish cards.

Election summary reports from other Georgia counties do not show the same discrepancy between the number of voters and ballots cast because Gwinnett is the only county in the state under Section 203. For example, in neighboring DeKalb County, where 83.1% of the vote went to Biden and 15.7% went to Trump ( here ), the number of total votes is equal to the number of ballots cast, 371,947 ( here ).

“For every other county in the state, the ‘Ballots Cast’ field reflects the number of ballots cast,” Sorenson explained.

“We’re the only county in the state that has to comply with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act. Gwinnett can’t remove the field in question from our report even though it creates confusion.”

VERDICT

False. In the 2020 general election, there were not more ballots cast than registered voters in Gwinnett County, Ga. The discrepancy between the 811,836 “ballots cast” and 408,268 voters is a result of the county’s machines initially counting two-page ballots that are printed in English and Spanish.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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