Local officials tell Georgia senators election bill would be wasteful, discourage voters

Georgia State Capitol on mostly sunny day

By Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]

March 29, 2022

Local elected officials from Georgia urged a Senate panel to remove portions of the sweeping election bill they claim would waste valuable resources and burden poll workers with cumbersome paperwork.

On Monday, the Senate Ethics Committee held a public hearing on House Bill 1464, a bill whose authors say will further beef up election security while cleaning up problems in last year’s controversial election overhaul.

But proposed chain-of-custody requirements under HB 1464 would require Forsyth County poll workers to perform menial tasks to keep track of the new paper ballot security measures, said Joel Natt, the election board’s vice chairman and Republican Party appointee.

“I have 172,000 registered voters so think about how much paper I have to order for every election,” Natt said. “That is a lot of counting, a lot of time and waste management.”

Senate Republicans emphasized that the public hearing was intended to vet a bill the House passed earlier this month. Sylvania Republican Sen. Max Burns, the committee’s chairman, said the bill could be voted on Tuesday. The final day of the state’s 2022 legislative session is April 4.

In their testimony, voting rights advocates claimed that the GOP bill only increases the likelihood of voter disenfranchisement by empowering the state’s top law enforcement agency to lead investigations into voting fraud allegations. Additionally, they said, the bill would further limit the ability of local elections offices to supplement shoestring budgets with private donations.

Under the bill, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would gain original jurisdiction and subpoena power to investigate election fraud and other voting related cases, without waiting for a request for assistance from the secretary of state or a local law enforcement agency as is the case now.

New security enhancements such as counting paper ballots are more likely to result in human error and the types of discrepancies that feed into the conspiracy theories, DeKalb County election board member Karli Swift said.

“There is no purpose to giving the Georgia Bureau of Investigations new powers unless your goal is to create sham partisan investigations,” she said. “The state board of elections and the secretary of state are already able to investigate election issues.”

Since 2020, the GBI and secretary of state’s office have worked together on high-profile election cases like investigating the surveillance video of Fulton County workers processing absentee ballots at State Farm Arena and auditing Cobb County absentee ballot signatures. That audit uncovered only two mismatched signatures out of 15,000 analyzed from the November election.

House Bill 1464 would also open up public inspection of original ballots cast, which now requires a judge’s order to unseal.

Some elections officials and voting rights groups, including Fair Fight and Common Cause Georgia, have expressed concerns that the bulk of $45 million in private donations from 2020 for local elections could be lost.

If an individual or organization wishes to donate, their financial contribution or other type of gift must be approved by a State Election Board, reducing the chances of money being used for partisan purposes.

Swift argued the House bill proposes a solution to a non-existent problem, like last year’s Senate Bill 202, which was created in response to false claims of election fraud tainting 2020’s presidential election results.

The sweeping 2021 election law overhaul mandated for the first time that each county provide a drop box for absentee voting, but placed restrictions on the number of drop boxes a county could provide and only allow them during in-person voting hours at advance voting sites.

“Maybe you’re not aware of Cherokee County getting more $700,000 and Hall County getting over $1 million to administer elections from the same organization as ‘liberal’ counties,” Swift said.

In the meantime, while Senate Bill 202 is still pending in the courts over whether it violates the Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising Black voters, election officials said Monday they are still adjusting to its rules on absentee ballots and a slew of other changes.

A busy election cycle presents another challenge with statewide races for governor, U.S. Senate, and secretary of state on the May 24 party primary ballot.

“I do know that we are really all worried about election integrity and competence in elections so I say we take time to get this right,” said Cindy Battles, director of policy engagement at the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda. “Because the more times we have to come back and clean up language. At some point voters are not only not going to trust their elected officials, but the people in this body making the laws.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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.