UPDATE: Pullar told The Clayton Crescent that SB 89 died in the Senate before the end of the session.
by Robin Kemp
WATCH LIVE: https://www.legis.ga.gov/video/all
Late on the final day of this legislative session, county elections officials blasted Georgia House members and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston for not including any of their concerns in three bills that have passed hours before Sine Die.
Those bills–HB 1464, SB 89, and SB 441–will slow down this year’s general election, according to several elections officials, none of whom were from Clayton County.
As of press time, the final version of SB 89 reportedly had passed the House and gone back to the Senate with a last-minute provision giving the Georgia Bureau of Investigation power, as well as allowing public ballot unsealing and inspections.
On Friday, the most controversial parts of HB 1464, including GBI subpoena powers, were dropped by the Senate committee, with some reports characterizing the bill as having been “gutted.” However, those provisions were given new life on this last day of the session.
Critics say the law could lead to numerous recounts by non-election officials, and that the prospect of having the GBI investigate elections might scare some voters away from the polls.
That provision did not appear at press time on the latest version published on the Georgia Assembly’s legislation tracking webpage. The Clayton Crescent is working to get the latest copy of that amendment and the final version of the bill at passage.
“Although the House authored elections legislation with no input from elections officials, we engaged in the legislative process in good faith, providing clear, unbiased, bipartisan testimony about the harm their proposals posed to elections administration,” the letter reads in part. “Nevertheless, despite the Senate doing the right thing and rejecting these provisions, legislators like Reps. Efstration, Bellinger [sic], Richard Smith, and Jan Jones ignored this expert testimony and have persisted in advancing this damaging and unnecessary legislation.”
The letter continues:
Georgia voters should be aware that, despite the best efforts of their county elections officials, potential inconsistencies, confusion, and delays in the 2022 General [Election] can be directly attributed to this tone deaf, partisan meddling.
First with HB 1464, then SB 89, and now SB 441, legislators are ignoring our voices and expertise, and instead pushing harmful provisions we have explicitly spoken against. As Sine Die draws to a close, our demand is very simple: listen to election officials and workers, hear our voices, and call on the legislature to reject these bills — and stop any additional attempts to insert these provisions into other bills tonight.”
The letter was signed by Omega Finney, Henry County Board of Elections member; Dele Lowman Smith, chair of the Dekalb Board of Voter Registration and Elections; Rocky Raffle, chair of the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections; Kelly Robinson, Newton County Board of Elections member; and Anita Tucker, Forsyth County Board of Registration and Elections member.
Clayton County Elections and Registration Director Shauna Dozier did not sign the version of the letter sent to The Clayton Crescent. However, board members Pat Pullar and Dolly Johnson have taken part in efforts to make election officials’ concerns known to state legislators this session.
State Rep. Rhonda Burnough (D-77, Riverdale) told the AJC’s Mark Niesse that the changes amount to an unfunded mandate because the state is not giving county elections offices any money to hire more people. However, state legislators did approve $580,000 for the GBI to expand its election investigation efforts.
The State Elections Board already has a team of elections investigators, including former Morrow Police Chief Jimmy Callaway.
On Friday, elections officials sent a similar letter to Gov. Brian Kemp, Duncan, and Ralston.