by Robin Kemp

The Georgia Senate has passed several bills that, if agreed to by the House and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, would change the way Georgia voters cast their ballots, as well as the way in which elections officials would report the number of votes cast.

The bills run largely along partisan and racial lines, with Democrats and Black legislators calling the Republican-led effort in both sides of the Georgia Assembly voter suppression and a return to Jim Crow. Republicans in the Senate say they are trying to provide greater transparency and accountability in the voting process. GPB and Georgia News Lab report that several of those Republican senators backed false claims about voter fraud and/or backed efforts to overturn the results of the November 2020 Presidential election.

Watch the full floor discussion from Wednesday, February 23, during which each bill’s author answers questions from colleagues about the bills:

YouTube video

Senate Bills 40, 67, 184, and 188 were engrossed Tuesday, February 23.

SB 40

SB 40 came out of the Senate Ethics Committee. Sponsors include Sen. Jen Jordan (D-6, Atlanta), Sen. Michelle Au (D-48, Johns Creek), Sen. Nikki Merritt (D-9, Grayson), Democratic Whip Sen. Harold Jones II (D-22, Augusta), Vice Chair of Campaigns and Fundraising Sen. Elena Parent (SD-42, Atlanta) and Democratic Caucus Secretary Sen. Nan Orrock (D-36, Atlanta.)

Georgia Sen. Jen Jordan (D-6, Atlanta) asks a question from the Senate floor
about SB 188, Feb. 23, 2021

Compare the version that passed with the original version (they appear identical except that the substitute bill removes the original sponsors’ names and has a different tracking number). SB 40 would require elections officials to start opening and tabulating absentee ballots the second Monday before a primary, election, or runoff.

SB 40 also:

  • removes the requirement that they have to wait until the polls open to start opening and tabulating absentee ballots
  • requires at least three registrars, deputy registrars, or absentee ballot clerks to be present at all times during ballot scanning (not just while opening the envelopes)
  • clarifies that two monitors from each political party and one monitor for each independent and nonpartisan candidate whose name appears on the ballot have the right to monitor the process of opening and scanning absentee ballots
  • requires the county elections superintendent to notify that county’s chief superior court judge on or before the third Monday before the election if the only thing on the ballot is a referendum, in which case the judge is required to appoint two voters who live in that county to serve as monitors
  • removes the requirement to publish a notice in the county legal organ and “in the superintendent’s office” one week before absentee ballot tabulation
The vote to pass by substitute SB 40. Three senators were excused.

SB 40 passed by substitute 53-0.

SB 67

SB 67 passed out of the Senate Ethics Committee and had 27 sponsors: Majority Caucus Vice Chairman Larry Walker III (R-20, Perry), President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-49, Gainesville), Jeff Mullis (R-53, Chickamauga), Majority Caucus Chairman John Kennedy (R-18, Macon), Majority Whip Steve Gooch (R-51, Dahlonega), Jason Anavitarte (R-31, Dallas), Kay Kirkpatrick (R-32, Marietta), Chief Deputy Whip John Albers (R-56, Roswell), Brian Strickland (R-17, McDonough), Marty Harbin (R-16, Tyrone), Carden Summers (R-13, Cordele), Lee Anderson (R-24, Grovetown), Max Burns (R-23, Sylvania), Sheila McNeill (R-3, Brunswick), Billy Hickman (R-4, Statesboro), Ben Watson (R-1, Savannah), Tyler Harper (R-7, Ocilla), Lindsey Tippins (R-37, Marietta), Governor’s Floor Leader Bo Hatchett (R-50, Cordelia), Governor’s Floor Leader Russ Goodman (R-8, Cogdell), Governor’s Floor Leader Clint Dixon (R-45, Gwinnett), Frank Ginn (R-47, Danielsville), Lee Anderson (R-24, Grovetown), Chuck Payne (R-54, Dalton), Bruce Thompson (R-14, White), and Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R-30, Carrollton).

SB 67 would require voters who apply for an absentee ballot (except overseas and military absentee voters) to submit with their application:

The charge for a Georgia ID card is $32 for eight years, while a Georgia ID card issued specifically “for voting purposes only” is free “when qualified” and is valid for eight years, according to the Department of Driver Services. To get a free voter ID card, a voter must show:

  • an original or certified document to prove the voter’s identity (like a passport or birth certificate)
  • their Social Security card
  • two documents showing the voter’s residential address (like a bank statement and a utility bill)
  • proof of a name change (like a marriage license)
  • a signed affidavit
  • evidence showing the voter is registered to vote

Acceptable forms of documentation are listed on the Department of Driver Services website.

The bill also requires first-time Georgia voters who register by mail to include a legible photocopy of one form of ID. Advance in-person voters will need to show their ID to poll workers.

Language allowing a witness to sign for voters who cannot fill out or sign their own application due to “illiteracy or physical disability” was stricken from the final version of the bill.

Also stricken from the final version: language that would have required registrars or absentee ballot clerks to verify signatures. Instead, the bill requires them to “verify the person’s identity based upon the identification provided by the elector” by comparing it with the voter’s information on file in the registrar’s or absentee ballot clerk’s office.

The bill also dropped language that would have:

  • prevented an absentee ballot from being rejected “due to an apparent mismatch” with the voter’s signature on file
  • required the board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk to send the voter a provisional absentee ballot, which the voter would return along with an affidavit and a copy of his or her approved ID

The bill also reads, “If the registrar or absentee ballot clerk is unable to determine the identity of the elector from information given on the application, the registrar or absentee ballot clerk should promptly write to request additional information.” It does not mention to whom the clerk shoukd write, nor does it specify how the written request is to be sent nor within what timeframe.

County or municipal registrars and absentee ballot clerks would be required to “provide such quantity of the application form to the dean of each college or university located in that county as said dean determines necessary for the students of such college or university,” The bill does not say anything about students who are registered to vote but who do not live on campus. It does not explain how deans are to determine which of their students would need absentee ballots provided to them by the college or university. It also does not provide any accountability or penalties around how college or university deans are supposed to handle those application forms–for example, whether students would have to fill out the forms and return them to the dean, or send the forms directly to the county registrar’s office.

U.S. citizens who are permanent residents of another country, but whose last address was in Georgia, would have the right to apply for, and vote by, absentee ballots in any election for presidential electors, U.S. House, or U.S. Senate.

SB 67 authorizes the Georgia Secretary of State to set up a website where voters can request an absentee ballot by entering their date of birth and their Georgia driver’s license or state ID number. The Secretary of State would verify the voter’s information, then “forward such information to the elector’s county of residence,” where the county would then issue the absentee ballot. It also forbids the Secretary of State from sending out absentee ballots directly.

SB 67 passed by substitute, 35-18.

SB 184

SB 184 also came out of the Senate Ethics Committee. Sponsors include Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-46, Athens), President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-49, Gainesville), Sen. Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R-30, Carrollton), Sen. Majority Whip Steve Gooch (D-51, Dahlonega), Sen. Majority Caucus Chair John Kennedy (R-18, Macon). SB 184 would:

  • cut from 60 to 30 days the time that county elections officials have to input the “voter credit,” which is the number of qualified voters that took part in an election
  • fine local boards of elections and registration $100 per day for each day those voter credit numbers were late.
The vote to pass SB 184. Three senators were excused.
Majority Whip Sen. Steve Gooch (R-51, Dahlonega) did not vote.

The original bill passed without changes, 37-15.

SB 188

SB 188, like SB 40 and SB 184, came out of the Senate Ethics Committee. Sponsors include Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-46, Athens), President Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-49, Gainesville), Sen. Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R-30, Carrollton), Sen. Majority Whip Steve Gooch (D-51, Dahlonega), Sen. Majority Caucus Chair John Kennedy (R-18, Macon), and Sen. Majority Caucus Vice Chair Larry Walker III (R-20, Kathleen). SB 188 would require the Georgia Secretary of State to “establish and maintain an election results reporting system for general primaries, general elections, and runoffs,” to include:

  • number of ballots cast by type in each precinct
  • results of state and federal races by precinct
  • number of absentee ballots issued and returned
  • number of absentee ballots certified
  • number of absentee ballots rejected
  • number of provisional ballots cast
  • “and such other information which the Secretary of State deems relevant and useful to the citizens of this state.”

The bill requires the Secretary of State to “ensure that all information required by this subsection is readily available on a publicly accessible website, including totals.”

The bill also holds county elections superintendents responsible for:

  • entering election returns into the system “as they become available”
  • entering the number of absentee ballots “issued and returned as of the close of the polls” “as soon as possible after the close of the polls” on a general primary, general election, or runoff day
  • before uploading any precinct’s vote totals into the system, entering “the number of in-person ballots cast in such precinct, absentee ballots received as of the close of the polls, and the number of provisional ballots cast in such precinct”
The vote to pass SB 188. Three senators were excused.
Majority Whip Sen. Steve Gooch (R-51, Dahlonega) did not vote.

SB 188 passed 34-18.

For a quick explanation of how a bill makes its way through the Georgia Assembly to become law, visit the New Georgia Encyclopedia’s Legislative Process Overview.

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