Georgia Tech professor Wenke Lee (second from left) and state Rep. James Beverly (left) speak with Ryan Germany of the Georgia Secretary of State's office after a public hearing for the Secure, Accessible, & Fair Elections Commission at the Coverdell Legislative Office Building in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, January 10, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Voting changes recommended to Georgia lawmakers

Along with a new Georgia election system, a government panel is also proposing changes to state laws intended to make voting easier and more accurate.

The panel, appointed by Gov.-elect Brian Kemp last summer, voted Thursday to recommend that the General Assembly revise how the state handles recounts, absentee ballots and election audits.

The panel’s most significant recommendation is to replace Georgia’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines with touchscreens that print paper ballots for verification. The state’s current voting machines lack a paper backup.

State lawmakers will have to decide between computer-printed paper ballots and paper ballots bubbled in with a pen, an option that cyber-security experts say is more secure from hacking.

Here’s a look at other recommendations from the Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission:

  • Make it clear in state law that absentee ballots  shouldn’t be thrown out just because of minor inaccuracies, such as filling out the absentee ballot envelope incorrectly. An analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that county election officials reported rejecting nearly 7,000 ballots, or 3 percent of total votes cast, in November’s election. 
  • Require post-election audits to find errors, deter fraud and ensure election accuracy. These audits would use paper ballots to verify the results of electronically tabulated results.
  • Lower the threshold for a losing candidate to request an automatic recount to 0.5 percent. Currently, losing candidates are entitled to a recount if they lose by 1 percentage point or less.
  • Allow in-person early voting in non-governmental buildings.
  • Extend the deadline for counties to certify an election to 10 days after Election Day, allowing time for audits to be completed before results are finalized. Currently, county election officials must certify results seven days after Election Day.
  • Replace vote-counting scanning machines, pollbooks and related election technology systems statewide, along with voting machines.
  • Retain a uniform statewide voting system. Other states allow counties to decide on different election systems, but Georgia uses the same voting method statewide for consistency.

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