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Republican state lawmakers revise Georgia election rules in time for 2024 campaign season

Credit: iStock

by Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
April 1, 2024

The 2024 election season may further highlight contentious voter eligibility challenges and result in the enactment of new rules governing future elections in Georgia.

Republicans in the Georgia Legislature passed a series of election rules as the 2024 session concluded last week that would change how votes are counted on ballots, create new ballot security measures, and outline the probable cause for voter eligibility challenges that have risen since the 2020 presidential election.

There is a possibility that Georgia voters notice a paper ballot watermark or become the target of mass voter challenges in the Nov. 5 election that is expected to be a rematch of President Joe Biden against the frontrunner for theGOP nomination Donald Trump. 

State lawmakers voted along party lines on the final day of the 40-day legislative session to pass Senate Bill 189, which Republicans contend will reinforce the 2021 election law overhaul they say was aimed at restoring voter confidence in elections while making it harder to cheat.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign SB 189, but if not it will become law on July 1 as long as he does not veto it.

Several new voting rules have reignited the debate over whether they will improve voters’ confidence or are being introduced to appease Trump supporters who believe the former president’s claims that he lost due to widespread election fraud. Multiple recounts and audits after the 2020 election confirmed it was not tainted by widespread fraud.

Opponents of mass challenges say that groups targeting Democratic-leaning counties are misusing the election law to claim that large numbers of ineligible voters are appearing on election rolls. It is alleged that hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters will be subjected to unwarranted questions regarding their eligibility to vote throughout the 2024 election season.

According to Atlanta Democratic Rep. Saira Draper, the bill enhances the credibility of so-called election deniers who continue to propagate unfounded claims of mass voter fraud in Georgia.

Draper said the bill will further burden election officials in their efforts to review individual cases, notify challenged voters, and hold hearings on disqualifications.

“I can’t believe we are justifying sloppy and rushed policy choices by saying we need to bring more confidence in our elections when you know just as well as I do that there is a very vocal minority who will never be confident so long as their candidate is not the winner,” Draper said.

The Republican majority Legislature passed the 2021 election law overhaul following the controversial presidential election of 2020, when Trump and his supporters filed unsuccessful legal challenges claiming widespread fraud. Georgia was a swing state, with Democratic nominee Biden narrowly winning the state by nearly 12,000 votes.

If a voter registers in a different jurisdiction, lists a nonresidential address such as a post office box, or obtains a homestead exemption in a different county, a local registrar may uphold an eligibility challenge. 

The legislation states that challenging a voter’s registration solely on the basis of the U.S. Postal Service database is insufficient unless there is other evidence that supports a different address than where someone is registered. The bill also says that having a post office box or a private mailbox service address listed on their voter registration is not sufficient to confirm eligibility.

Rep. John LaHood, a Valdosta Republican, said the revised election processes contained in the measure would boost voter confidence and participation in future elections.

“What’s crazy to me is the idea that anybody in this chamber would be OK with a fraudulent vote canceling your legal vote,” LaHood said.

The new election law also provides protection for military personnel and college students from residency challenges, and filings made less than 45 days before the election will not be considered until after the election.

Representative Victor Anderson, a Republican from Cornelia, claims that the bill does a good job defining when a voter challenge has enough evidence to proceed or if it doesn’t.

Draper said she believes the existing law strikes a balance between safeguarding Georgians’ right to vote and removing those who are no longer eligible.

The current system notifies local election officials when a registered voter dies, is convicted of a felony, or registers to vote in a new jurisdiction.

About 500,000 inactive Georgia voters were removed during a statewide maintenance effort by the secretary of state last year.

“The idea that some busybody Joe Schmo will come out with his own list of voter challenges so that the rolls stay clean, that’s crazy,” Draper said. “It’s never been about cleaning rolls. It’s about creating chaos.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia announced after the legislation passed that it plans to sue the state if the governor signs it into law and the mass voter challenges provision is implemented.

House Speaker Jon Burns, a Newington Republican, said the changes to Georgia’s voting code during the 2024 session will continue to inspire confidence in the state’s elections system.

“Chairman LaHood has worked extremely diligently over the summer with Chairman Max Burns in the Senate by looking at alternatives that will allow our elections to be run very efficiently and effectively,” Burns said. 

Common Cause Georgia policy analyst Anne Gray Herring said expanding the criteria for mass voter challenges will lead to even more disputes.

“These election bills do nothing to help Georgia voters. Instead, they add unnecessary burdens to an already safe and secure voting process. These bills will make it harder, not easier to vote in Georgia,” Herring said.

New ballot features looming

A change stirring less controversy is a proposed visible watermark to be printed on  ballots intended as a new security feature to ensure the authenticity of ballots.

The state’s reliance on QR codes and other electronic voting technology has been the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit in which election security advocates push for Georgia to switch to a paper ballot system. A federal court judge is expected to rule in the coming weeks on a lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, which argues that the state’s electronic voting machines pose a serious security risk.

Georgia could begin replacing its long-challenged computer QR coding with easy to read text on ballots beginning in 2026 text to tabulate votes and allow voters to confirm their choices. Under the bill, the secretary of state is required to develop a pilot program using plainly readable text to audit every ballot cast in the Nov. 5 election.

The bill also expands poll watchers’ access by giving them the right to observe local election administration as closely as possible without observing confidential information.

According to Georgia law, a poll watcher observes an election on behalf of an independent or nonpartisan candidate, a political party, or a political body. The legislation also allows independent presidential candidates to appear on Georgia ballots if they are listed on ballots in at least 20 other states.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.

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