Georgia Senate, House committee advance election legislation

Georgia’s State Election Board could take over county election offices under a bill approved Wednesday by the state Senate.

A House committee also approved a wide-ranging election bill that would limit counties’ ability to hold early voting on weekends.

Senate Bill 89 passed on a 35-18 vote, sending it to the House for more work. The measure is one of a barrage of bills Republicans are pushing, claiming Georgia needs major reforms after last year’s elections. Democrats says Republicans are perpetuating former President Donald Trump’s lies about election fraud and restricting voting to ensure GOP control.

The measure creates a new election official, reporting to the board, that could intervene in "low-performing" county election offices. The state election board would also create the criteria for what constitutes an underperforming county.

If a county was found to be underperforming, the state would pay for an evaluation. If the county fails or refuses to make changes within 90 days, the state could take over a county’s elections.

Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, said the bill is needed to provide oversight. He said the state will coach, share best practices and guide counties before taking over.

"It’s not just swooping in and taking control," Miller said.

Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Atlanta, was again singled out on the floor Wednesday, with Republican Sen. John Albers of Roswell saying the move would "finally remedy" Fulton County’s problems.

Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, expressed concern that the Republican-tilted State Election Board would displace county boards that have representation from both parties.

"There would be no equity or comity between the parties any more, at least in my county," said Parent, who lives in Democratic-dominated DeKalb County.

Minority Whip Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat, said the bill was unneeded because the state already allows for investigation and said many counties violate election laws and could be taken over.

Later Wednesday, the House Special Committee on Election Integrity approved House Bill 531, which would add new requirements for absentee voting and limit early voting, among many other provisions. The bill could soon move to the full House for a vote.

A previous version of the bill would have barred counties from holding early voting on Sundays, a popular day for Black churchgoers who vote during "Souls to the Polls" events. Critics blasted the proposal as a direct attack on Black voters, who helped fuel Democratic wins in recent election cycles.

But an amendment was included at the last minute Wednesday that would allow counties to hold early voting on either the first Saturday or Sunday of the early voting period.

The bill also would require a photo ID for absentee voting and restrict where drop boxes could be located.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger issued a statement Wednesday saying that his office is still reviewing the various pieces of election-related legislation being debated at the Capitol.

"We are reviewing bills. Once we see something that prioritizes the security and accessibility of elections, we’ll throw in support," Raffensperger said. "At the end of the day, many of these bills are reactionary to a three month disinformation campaign that could have been prevented."

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