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Elections panel report urges easier ballot access
Council also calls for online registration
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A report released Monday by Georgia's secretary of state calls on Georgia lawmakers to consider easier ballot access for third-party candidates and amendments to state law that would allow voters to register online.

The report outlines a number of recommendations made by elections officials statewide, called the Elections Advisory Council, in a yearlong review of the state's elections laws and procedures.

In a cover letter to the report, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp says the study focused mostly on changes that would save state and local governments money and time.

Among other recommendations, the report questions whether municipal elections, which currently are held on odd-numbered years, should be held at the same time as other elections on even-numbered years.

By lumping all state, county and municipal elections on the same ballot, the council suggests that local governments could save on elections' costs. In another cost-saving measure for municipal elections, the council recommends getting rid of a September special election date in even-numbered years.

The report calls on lawmakers to reconsider laws that may limit voter participation.

Specifically, it asks lawmakers to amend state law to allow incarcerated citizens who are still eligible to vote to receive absentee ballots in jail.

The council also asks lawmakers to reconsider a proposed law from 2010 that would have required the Secretary of State to create a secure way for Georgia voters to register to vote online as long as much of their information could be verified with the state's Department of Driver Services.

Again, the report cites the recommended change as a cost-saving measure.

"Electronic voter registration would be faster, more accurate and less expensive for the counties than the current paper system," the report states.

For candidates seeking ballot access, the council recommends changes to Georgia's law that would reduce the number of signatures an independent candidate would need to get his or her name on the ballot.

Currently, Georgia law requires that a candidate garner the signatures of 1 percent of the total number of registered voters eligible to vote in the last election to qualify to run for a statewide office. For any other office, the number of needed signatures is equal to 5 percent of the eligible voters in the last election.

The council report suggests the number should be a percentage based on voter turnout in the previous presidential election. Historically, voter turnout in presidential elections hovers around 75 percent, according to the report.

If the legislature adopts the recommendations, independent office holders would not have to garner the signatures for ballot access in a re-election bid.

The report even questions whether Georgia's current rules for winning an election, which currently require a candidate to garner a majority of the vote, should be changed during specially called elections to allow the candidate with simply the most votes to be declared the winner. The report cites 25 elections for state or congressional offices since 2002 that a candidate received more than 45 percent of the vote, but ended in a runoff because the candidate failed to gain the majority needed to be called the winner.

In a prepared statement Monday, Kemp called the report, "the product of input from the public," as well as council members, county election officials and elected officials.

"This report demonstrates that despite our sometimes partisan differences, men and women dedicated to improving our great state can do so in a non-partisan manner for the benefit of all Georgians," Kemp said.