Georgia election bills seek to satisfy skeptical Republicans

Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Political News

ATLANTA — Conservative election activists got what they wanted from Georgia lawmakers this year, with a series of bills that cater to their demands for heightened scrutiny of ballots and voter registrations.

The bills would grant many wishes of skeptics who now say they’re starting to believe in elections again, nearly four years after Republican Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Whether they accept the results in this year’s election remains to be seen — and might depend on who wins.

“It’s a big step. I really think this will help restore voter confidence in Georgia,” said Garland Favorito, co-founder of the group VoterGA, which opposes the state’s voting system and made unsubstantiated claims about counterfeit ballots being used in 2020. “Of course, we still wanted more, but these were good times.”

Heading into the 2024 presidential election, Republican legislators passed bills to challenge voters’ eligibility, eliminate computer codes to count ballots and guarantee more access for partisan poll watchers.

Additional provisions would add watermarks on ballots to prevent potential counterfeits, track ballots anytime they’re touched by poll workers, permit high-resolution photocopies of absentee ballots and require all absentee ballots to be counted by 8 p.m. on election night.

The bills are now awaiting Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature or veto before a May 7 deadline.

“I would describe this year’s session as a home run for those of us concerned about election integrity,” Georgia Republican Party Chairman Josh McKoon said. “We want an overwhelming majority of our citizenry to have confidence in our election process, and this moves us a tremendous amount in that direction.”

Lawmakers’ efforts to build election confidence among Republicans has been a moving target for those who said they lost faith in results following Trump’s defeat.

Trump has encouraged distrust in elections, repeatedly claiming at rallies — without evidence — that there was widespread fraud in Georgia.

Each year since the last presidential election, Republican legislators have passed laws aimed at appeasing their concerns, especially through Georgia’s 2021 voting law that tightened absentee voting rules by limiting drop boxes, requiring more ID and eliminating paperless online ballot requests.

Democrats and voting rights groups say lawmakers caved into conspiracy theories and election denial, resulting in needless security theater that will strain competent elections administration.

They’re especially alarmed by the bill that would set standards for activists to seek the removal of voter registrations of people who appear to have moved from Georgia. Since the 2020 election, conservative activists have challenged the eligibility of over 100,000 registrations, but county election boards have rejected most of their attempts.

“This legislation is the latest in a long line of Georgia election bills that does nothing to improve the voting process,” said Kristin Nabers, the Georgia director for the voting organization All Voting Is Local. “Instead, it will make it even easier for anyone to challenge the eligibility of a voter’s registration by allowing challengers to use unreliable websites that often have incorrect or outdated data.”

State Rep. Stacey Evans, a Democrat from Atlanta, said Republicans should end the ongoing quest to rectify baseless suspicions about the 2020 election.

The election has been repeatedly upheld by recounts, audits and investigations. Some problems were found in the 2020 election, but they didn’t change the outcome.


“Proponents of those pieces of legislation come to this well and say, ‘This is going to secure our elections,’ " Evans said during a debate in the state House. “Then the next year, we have to come back and open up the code again. So are you lying then or are you lying now? Is it now going to be the most secure?”

Just 42% of Republicans said they were confident that this year’s presidential election would be conducted fairly and accurately, according to a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among all Georgia voters in the survey, 57% said they were confident.

House Governmental Affairs Chairman John LaHood said this year’s bills will make a difference to voters who want assurances that elections are accurate and secure.

“This is the most impactful election package to come out of this General Assembly since 2021,” said LaHood, a Republican from Valdosta. “Georgia will be in the spotlight in this national election, and it’s considered a swing state. We want to make sure we get it right.”

It’s unclear whether the bills will satisfy conservative election watchdogs who remain concerned that outdated registrations could be used to cast fraudulent absentee ballots. Few cases of ineligible voting have been confirmed by state election investigations.

Activists are preparing to file more challenges to Georgia voters before this year’s election.

“Our goal is to make it easier to vote but harder to cheat, and I think these bills go a long way toward that,” said Mark Davis, a Gwinnett County resident who analyzes voter registration lists and testified at a state Senate hearing on voter challenges in February. “There’s still some things left to do in the next session of the Legislature.”

Georgia election bills

—House Bill 974: Would add watermarks to ballots, display ballot pictures online, require more audits of statewide elections and use technology to verify the accuracy of text on ballots.

—House Bill 1207: Would require that election workers be U.S. citizens, allow fewer voting machines on election days, guarantee poll watchers close access and allow candidates to proof ballots for errors.

—House Bill 1312: Would reschedule canceled elections for the Public Service Commission amid an ongoing court case over whether statewide elections weaken Black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

—Senate Bill 189: Would change rules for mass voter challenges, eliminate computer QR codes from ballots, add ballot security procedures and ease requirements for third-party presidential candidates to appear on Georgia ballots.

—Senate Bill 368: Would prohibit foreign campaign contributions, which are already banned by federal law and haven’t been found in Georgia.


©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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