Heated election year might bring more changes to Georgia voting laws

Investigations, election security and absentee ballots considered.
Numerous election measures could see consideration by the Republican-run General Assembly during its session that begins Monday, (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)



Numerous election measures could see consideration by the Republican-run General Assembly during its session that begins Monday, (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

In this contentious presidential election year, Georgia legislators might change the rules again.

Lawmakers plan to consider an array of proposals — a mix driven by Republican angst over the 2020 election, power struggles within the GOP and a desire to make elections more trustworthy to their voters.

Four years since Republican Donald Trump’s narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden, conservatives’ lack of confidence in Georgia’s elections might continue to lead to new laws.

A long list of potential election measures could be debated in the Republican-run General Assembly, such as allowing the State Election Board to investigate Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, ending no-excuse absentee voting and verifying computer codes printed on ballots.

Legislators might also weigh eliminating runoffs, authorizing public inspections of paper ballots, tightening ballot handling procedures and allowing voters to fill out paper ballots by hand instead of using touchscreens.

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

None of these initiatives has emerged as a priority in the General Assembly, but many election bills are introduced every year and some of them become law, such as the 2021 voting law that restricted ballot drop boxes, allowed mass challenges to voters’ eligibility and banned handing out food and drinks to voters waiting in line.

State Rep. John LaHood, who leads the House committee that oversees election bills, said he will be “as aggressive as he needs to be” when pursuing changes. He said he was concerned about election security and voters who received ballots for the wrong districts in last fall’s elections.

“It is sure to be an interesting year as the political story unfolds in 2024,” said LaHood, a Republican from Valdosta and chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee. “I am collaborating with stakeholders and monitoring election matters closely while determining what the legislative needs are for the 2024 session.”

The voting rights group Fair Fight Action, which was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, warned that conspiracy theorists could pressure legislators to enact policies that harm voting access.

“As we head into 2024, we know anti-democratic bad actors are more engaged, more organized and more effective than ever, from the continued onslaught of anti-voter legislation to the massive uptick in mass voter challenges,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, Fair Fight’s executive director.

One issue that could rise to the surface is whether the State Election Board has the authority to investigate Raffensperger, a potential Republican rival to Lt. Gov. Burt Jones in the 2026 race for governor. The board declined last month to pursue an inquiry into Raffensperger’s oversight of an audit of the 2020 presidential but asked the General Assembly to clarify its powers.

Raffensperger has his own proposals. He wants to spend $4.7 million on equipment for voters to scan QR codes on their ballots to ensure their votes are recorded accurately. He also backs amending the Georgia Constitution to ensure that noncitizens can’t vote. State law already limits voting to U.S. citizens.

In addition, Raffensperger wants to end runoffs after general elections. Georgia is one of three states that require runoffs when no candidate wins a majority in a general election, but efforts to curtail them in Georgia fell short in last year’s legislative session.

“No one wants to be dealing with politics in the middle of their family holiday,” Raffensperger said. “Our county election offices will already be securing the 2024 presidential election with audits and certifying those results. Let’s not burden them with another election.”

State Rep. Saira Draper, who before taking office handled voting rights for the Democratic Party of Georgia, said she’s “extremely concerned” about bills that could inhibit access to voting, such as restrictions on absentee ballots and enabling further challenges against voters’ eligibility.

“If it’s folks who are election deniers and conspiracy theorists who base their comments on how they feel as opposed to what the evidence shows, we cannot let that direct our policy,” Draper said. “As for the suggestion that we get rid of no-excuse absentee balloting, Republicans shouldn’t cut off their nose to spite their face. These policies benefit all voters.”

One bill sought by conservative election activists would permit Georgia residents to review paper ballots after an election — a long-sought goal of Trump supporters who believe they’d find fraudulent ballots in Fulton County. Election investigators said they didn’t find any counterfeit ballots when they checked ballot batches identified by Republican vote-counters.

That legislation cleared a House committee last year but didn’t receive a vote in the full House.

All bills introduced last year are still alive in 2024, the second year of the General Assembly’s lawmaking cycle.

While it’s uncertain which election-related bills will gain traction, the legislative session is certain to be overshadowed by the presidential race in Georgia, one of the most competitive states in the nation.