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Georgia House weighs new election policing powers

The 40-page bill would give the Georgia Bureau of Investigations the power to probe election fraud allegations — supplementing the work currently overseen by state election officials. It also would allow public inspection of original paper ballots and make other changes to election procedures in this key battleground state.

The sweeping measure is part of a wave of bills moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures this year that are aimed at rewriting election procedures, following President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have falsely attributed his loss in Georgia and other key states to election fraud.
Voting rights activists denounced the measures proposed in Georgia as erecting new hurdles to voting in a state that will host marquee races for governor and a US Senate seat this year. As currently written, the changes would take effect in July — ahead of November’s general election.

And voting rights groups warned that the involvement of state law-enforcement in policing election fraud could chill participation in elections.

“It makes people think there’s a chance they could be investigated,” said Xakota Espinoza of Fair Fight Action, a group established by Stacey Abrams, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race.

“What is the need for this? They are pushing this bill to appease conspiracy theorists.”

During committee debate last week, GOP state Rep. Alan Powell said lawmakers are “trying to get to the point that everything is uniform — no matter what county it is.”

Doing so, he said, would “dispel any of the anxiety and the concerns that there’s something that’s been done wrong.”

Georgia lawmakers moved swiftly in recent days to advance the measure before Tuesday’s deadline to take action before the state legislature’s internal deadline for bills to clear at least one chamber.

Republican legislators in the Georgia House unveiled the sweeping proposal last week — just as the GOP-controlled legislature in neighboring Florida gave final approval to an elections security office sought by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Milton Kidd, who oversees elections in Douglas County, west of Atlanta, said the more direct involvement by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations could deter poll workers and voters from participating.

“Poll workers … have told me that they have moved away from the election space because they feel like these are actions that are going to come against them,” Kidd said at a recent hearing on the bill. “It’s going to have a chilling effect on voters participating in the process because, in most cases, the election issues that the secretary of state has found have been administrative issues. They’re issues that the current mechanism can actually deal with.”

Georgia and Florida both are among the states that enacted new voting restrictions last year.

Georgia’s sweeping 2021 election overhaul established new voter ID requirements to cast ballots by mail, restricted the use of ballot drop boxes and allowed state takeovers of local election boards.

During a news conference Tuesday morning, Nichola Hines, president of the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County, the proposal would complicate matters for election workers and voters already scrambling to navigate the changes brought by Georgia’s 2021 election law and recent redistricting.

“Adding another round of voting changes at this late date,” she said, “is a recipe for disaster and will likely cause confusion and suppress the votes of voters of both parties.”

The new proposals that Georgia lawmakers are weighing focus more on election administration than on ballot access.

One proposal, for instance, establishes elaborate chain-of-custody procedures for handling absentee ballots.

Another would prevent nonprofits from providing any funding directly to local election administrators. Instead, those groups first would have to seek approval from the State Elections Board, which would then distribute the grants to prevent funding inequities across the state.

Republican officials have taken aim at donations funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to local election offices during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Conservatives say the grants helped make it easier to vote in Democratic areas — giving the party an unfair advantage.

The grant administrators have denied any partisan bias in distributing the money, which topped $340 million.

GOP gubernatorial candidate David Perdue calls for new election police unit in Georgia

Once the elections bill clears the Georgia House, it then will head to the Senate where the legislation could undergo further changes, such as adding a proposal to ban absentee ballot drop boxes. Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, a Republican who is running for lieutenant governor, in December proposed a measure that would prohibit drop boxes.

Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in Georgia — the first for a Democrat in the state in nearly three decades — was certified after three counts of ballots. And judges have tossed out several lawsuits claiming fraud.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating what actions Trump or his allies may taken in their efforts to overturn Biden’s victory. The probe began last year following Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pushed the Republican to “find” the votes to overturn the election results.

CNN’s Dan Berman contributed to this story.

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