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These voting bills have advanced in this week’s Senate subcommittee meetings
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Voters are being mailed applications to vote absentee in the May 19, 2020, primary. - photo by Shannon Casas

How much will Georgia’s elections change following the conclusion of the 2020-21 legislative session?

This week, an array of bills have advanced through various subcommittee sessions in the Georgia Senate Ethics committee, and Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, told The Times, the conversations in the various meetings have been “bipartisan and transparent.”

“In 2016, we had Democrats raise an issue with the integrity of the election, and this year, Republicans raised an issue with the integrity of the election,” Miller told the Times on Feb. 18. “So, somewhere in the middle, we can see that both parties acknowledge a need to encourage access to elections and discourage inefficiency.”

Some of the bills, including Senate Bill 40, which would require county officials to begin processing absentee ballots eight days before Election Day, have received bipartisan support in the chamber.

The intent of Senate Bill 40 is to cut down on delays in counting after mail-in ballots overwhelmed election workers in the November and January run-off elections.

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Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. - photo by Nick Bowman

Other bills, like SB 67, that seek to streamline the absentee ballot application process and replace signature verification with a system that verifies photo ID on those applications, passed exclusively on Republican party lines.

As did Senate Bill 71, which seeks to rescind the no-excuse absentee ballot provision signed into law under then-Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005.

Under SB 71, absentee voting would be limited to people 75 and older, people with disabilities and people who are unable to vote at their precinct on Election Day. It passed through the subcommittee.

Titled Senate Bill 188, a provision that requires an online election results portal to track the number of ballots requested, returned and rejected was also approved by the subcommittee.

SB 184 sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) proposed a provision to shorten the time county elections officials have to input voter information into the state's system from 60 days to 30 or face a $100-a-day fine.

A separate subcommittee approved SB 89, which would create the Elections Assistance Officer position. This position would work under the secretary of state’s office and with local elections offices on training and evaluating voting processes.

The language of the bill states that the officer would be responsible for identifying “low-performing county” elections directors and take action against those superintendents that don't meet standards.

“When you have an entire state finish their ballot counts before an outstanding county in Georgia, it’s one of those things that we need to address,” Miller said. 

Under Georgia law, election superintendents are appointed by a bipartisan election board.
The role of elections director is a hired position, and the bill would authorize the state to revoke power from those election boards and not the directors.
We have some counties that aren’t getting their votes in on time,” Miller said. “And this bill will create some additional oversight to make sure each county elections staff can find the best way to improve accuracy, best practices of their work and overall efficiency.”
Those bills could be taken up by the full Senate Ethics Committee soon.
Miller said the bills by nature, are not “Republican or Democrat.”
“I don’t think these bills are skewed toward one side or the other,” he said. “The conversations we’re having in the ethics committee are substantive, and the scope of our conversation include solutions from both sides of the aisle.”
However, some have raised concerns about the transparency of the ongoing committee meetings, which are not available via livestream and have limited public access due to COVID-19 protocols in the Capitol building.
No agenda for meetings was posted online before the meetings this week.
“Some advice for the Senate Committee on Ethics: if you’re not willing to do something in the full light of public view, you shouldn't do it,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, in a statement.
Miller said there is no established precedent for livestreaming subcommittee meetings, and that the subcommittees can only make recommendations during hearings.
“These subcommittees are not livestreamed, and yes, that may be a conversation that needs to be had down the road,” he said. “But I think the claims that this being done secretly and without consideration of the public is not true.”

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