Georgia’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill Monday aimed at making elections more secure, specifically in the way of absentee voting.
House Bill 531 passed Monday with a 97-72 vote, and along with sweeping reforms related to absentee voting, strips the Secretary of State from his role as chairman of the State Elections Board. That person will, if the bill passes and is signed into law, be chosen by the General Assembly.
Primarily, the bill moves Georgia away from “no-excuse” absentee voting, which caused headaches during the 2020 election cycle. That rule was made during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many felt that vast swaths of the population voting absentee hurt election integrity.
The new bill mandates that voters can register to vote absentee only within 78 days of a primary election, not 180 as is currently the law. It also implements a voter identification requirement for obtaining an absentee ballot.
Though the bill does not eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes, which were also a source of controversy in 2020, it does establish rules regarding how many drop boxes will be legal – one in each county at minimum, and one for every 100,000 voters at a maximum – as well as strict chain of custody rules for the collection and delivery of absentee ballots from drop boxes.
The new rule established by HB 531 says the mandates the following:
The board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk shall arrange for the collecting and return of ballots deposited at each drop box at the conclusion of each day where advance voting takes place.Collection of ballots from a drop box shall be made by a team of at least two people.Any person collecting ballots from a drop box shall have sworn an oath in the same form as the oath for poll officers set forth in Code Section 21-2-95.The collection team shall complete and sign a ballot transfer form upon removing the ballots from the drop box which shall include the date, time, location, number of ballots, confirmation that the drop box was locked after the removal of the ballots, and the identity of each person collecting the ballots.The collection team shall then immediately transfer the ballots to the board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk, who shall process and store the ballots in the same manner as absentee ballots returned by mail are processed and stored.The board of registrars, absentee ballot clerk, or a designee of the board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk shall sign the ballot transfer form upon receipt of the ballots from the collection team.Such form shall be considered a public record pursuant to Code Section 50-18-70.
As The Georgia Star News reported, chain of custody documents for nearly half a million drop box ballots were never obtained, leaving no public record of how those ballots were moved from the drop boxes to their respective county registrars, where the votes were tallied.
In Cobb County alone, 78 percent of drop box ballots were not “immediately” transported to the county registrar after pickup, as currently dictated by the state election rules.
President Joe Biden won Georgia by fewer than 12,000 votes in November.
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