Broad Georgia elections measure heads for House vote

Committee approves bill for ballot inspections and GBI investigations

Credit: Mark Niesse

Credit: Mark Niesse

A Georgia elections bill that would authorize paper ballot inspections and GBI fraud investigations cleared its committee Thursday, setting up a likely vote in the state House within days.

The committee vote was split along party lines, with Republicans saying the legislation would improve security and Democrats criticizing another round of changes to voting rules following last year’s sweeping elections overhaul.

The measure is the latest effort by the Republican majority in the General Assembly to rework election procedures in response to complaints from the party’s voters about the 2020 election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

“I personally never want to live through another election where whatever side loses says there was cheating,” Dana Smith, a Republican voter from Hart County, told the House Election Integrity Committee before its vote.

Voting rights advocates called the bill a form of “election sabotage” that empowers conservative voters who won’t accept the reality that Trump lost. Three vote counts and multiple investigations upheld the results of the 2020 election.

“Here we are again with another bill attempting to attack voting rights,” said Britt Jones-Chukura, co-founder of Protect the Vote GA. “It’s almost as if you don’t want us to vote at all. We want more access and fairness.”

The 39-page Georgia elections measure, House Bill 1464, focuses on election security after last year’s 98-page bill limited drop boxes, required more ID for absentee voting and allowed state takeovers of local election boards.

Under the legislation, original paper ballots would become public records available for members of the public to request and review. Under current law, ballots can only be unsealed by a judge’s order, though digital ballot images are already available.

The GBI would gain jurisdiction to investigate election cases and subpoena records, supplementing investigators in the secretary of state’s office.

The bill also would restrict nonprofit funding for elections offices, require chain-of-custody paperwork when election officials handle ballots and make it a felony to threaten violence against poll workers and election officials.

“What we’re trying to do is get to the point where everything is uniform, no matter what county it is, so we can dispel any of these anxieties and concerns if there’s something been done wrong,” said state Rep. Alan Powell, a Republican from Hartwell.

Critics of the bill say it would burden local election officials with additional levels of bureaucracy that would hinder quick and accurate results. They also say that the bill would allow criminalization of voters if casual interactions with election officials were interpreted as threats.

“Anytime we add law enforcement and GBI involvement, it’s really on the border of intimidation to our voters, the poll workers and the activists involved,” said state Rep. Kimberly Alexander, a Democrat from Hiram. “It’s really hard for counties to recruit poll workers right now, and threatening to bring in the GBI would really make it worse.”

The legislation could reach the full House for a vote by Tuesday, the General Assembly’s internal deadline for bills to pass at least one chamber. If approved, the measure would next be considered by the state Senate.

Georgia omnibus election bill

House Bill 1464 would:

  • Open original paper ballots to public inspection
  • Allow the GBI to subpoena election records
  • Restrict nongovernmental funding to county election offices
  • Require forms and seals after handling ballots
  • Mandate “meaningful access” for poll watchers in polling places and tabulation centers
  • Make it a felony to threaten violence against poll workers and election officials