ATLANTA – Georgia senators scrap plans to seek further major changes in state electoral law, plagued by strong opposition from local election officials who say their offices are being cluttered with unnecessary red tape.
The Senate Ethics Committee on Tuesday amended House Bill 1464 to drop all of its proposals except for a provision requiring employers to give workers time off to vote early and amending a current law, the one time-out for voting on election day.
Georgia’s General Assembly was turned on its head last year by a restrictive electoral law that cut the time it takes to apply to vote by mail, stripped Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger of power and severely rolled back the pandemic-driven expansion of mail-in voting boxes. It was one of the first and most notorious restrictive laws passed by Republican-controlled lawmakers, a trend that continues this year.
Republicans said Georgia’s 2021 law was necessary to restore confidence in the state’s electoral system, while Democrats condemned it as an attempt to discourage pro-democracy citizens from voting.
But the 2021 law wasn’t enough for some Republicans, particularly those who believe false claims that President Donald Trump’s Georgia 2020 election was fraudulently stolen.
Although investigations and recounts following the 2020 election found no significant fraud, proposals have been made to call for sweeping, new chain of custody requirements for ballot handling – including a requirement to repeatedly count blank ballots. The bill passed by the House of Representatives also included requirements that ballots be physically inspected after an election and that private donations only be accepted by the state election board.
More than a dozen county election officials lined up before the Senate Ethics Committee Monday and testified that further action would paralyze their offices with requirements amounting to “security theater.”
Garland Favorito, a longtime critic of Georgia’s electoral system, wanted the legislature to go further, banning mailboxes entirely, leaving ballot envelopes containing voters’ personal information with the ballots, and requiring each ballot to be printed on a sheet of paper with a unique serial number .
“I think they sorted out all the good stuff,” Favorito said of the committee’s action on Tuesday.
What had been a 39-page bill was reduced to less than two pages.
“What happened to your bill?” Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican from Gainesville, prompted a laugh. “Looks like it’s on SlimFast.”
But Rep. James Burchett, the Waycross Republican who sponsored the measure in the House of Representatives, expressed no opposition to the changes. “I appreciate the wisdom and judgment of this committee,” Burchett said, acknowledging that the Senate version was “very, very run down.”
Although Georgia’s 2022 parliamentary term nears its scheduled end on Monday, the latest move does not mean the debate over electoral rules is over.
Republican House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge wants to allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to conduct its own investigations into voting rights violations without inviting local officials, one of the measures that were scrapped Tuesday.
Opponents of the bill called it a “temporary victory” and said they feared the return of the GBI provision, particularly as the House and Senate debate the wide differences in the respective proposals.
“The law has changed dramatically, but it could change again,” said Isabel Otero of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. “I know the House wants additional regulations.”
But if the changes endure, it could signal a waning appetite for election laws among Georgia’s Republican lawmakers, a year after many were calling for changes, citing a spate of calls and emails demanding restrictions from voters.
Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican, said he supports many of the ideas but said the bill lacked consensus. He added that he had heard from election officials that problems “needed to be approached more thoughtfully”.
Election officials who opposed the measure had said they were concerned about the implementation of more changes as they try to cope with last year’s changes, the redistribution of constituencies and a new electronic voter registration system.
They also said a rule requiring all private donations to polling agencies to be made only to the Republican-controlled state elections agency could drain them of resources and disrupt ties with groups that donate their buildings for use as polling stations. Some Republicans say $400 million donated by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg unfairly favored Democratic districts.
On Tuesday, some members of the local Electoral Board thanked lawmakers for listening.
“This is a clear example of the progress that can be made when lawmakers listen to and embrace the recommendations of local officials,” said a statement signed by 11 county election officials who opposed the law .
Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.
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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/03/29/georgia-senators-scrap-proposal-for-more-election-rules/ Georgia senators throw out proposal for more voting rules