New Georgia law allows GBI to investigate elections

Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation Wednesday that allows the GBI to launch investigations into voter fraud allegations, the latest Republican-led effort to change election rules after Democratic victories.

The measure to give the statewide agency stronger police powers over elections was staunchly opposed by Democrats and voting rights groups who warned that greater police involvement in elections could intimidate voters and suppress turnout.

Echoing other GOP supporters, Kemp called Senate Bill 441 a “strong, commonsense” law that brings more confidence to the Georgia’s election system. He also proposed about $500,000 in next year’s budget to finance new GBI positions to probe election complaints.

Previous versions of the legislation would have made more sweeping revisions, including efforts to unseal paper ballots for public inspection, impose strict ballot handling rules and restrict nonprofit election funding. Those were removed in the final days of the session.

Still, the measure amounts to a significant change in the state’s election procedure. Under the new law, the secretary of state still has power to delve into election-related infractions. But the GBI would also have authority to investigate potential violations that could put the results of an election in doubt.

It passed despite opposition from Democrats who called it a naked effort to appease former President Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud in Georgia. Election officials have repeatedly recounted, investigated and upheld the results.

A year ago, the General Assembly adopted a far-reaching measure that included more regulations on absentee balloting. That law limited ballot drop boxes, added absentee voter ID requirements and allowed state takeovers of county election offices.

House Speaker David Ralston and other supporters say the latest measure is not about “sour grapes” from the 2020 election. Rather, they frame it as a way to give the state’s main police force new powers to start election fraud inquiries and subpoena records.

The GBI had already played a significant role in investigating the 2020 election. Its agents found no fraud after it assisted in investigations of absentee ballot signatures, counterfeit ballots and ballot collection.

Staff Writer Mark Niesse contributed to this report.