On the heels of the state’s disastrous 2020 presidential election, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill531 on Monday by a vote of 97-72. It now goes to the state Senate for further debate. The 66-page bill would move Georgia closer to rebuilding voters’ confidence in the state’s election system by reforming several critical election rules.

If passed, HB531 would, in an effort to make the state’s elections free of external influences, remove the secretary of state from his role as chair of the State Election Board and prevent county elections offices from receiving direct grant funding. Additionally, election superintendents and boards of registrars would not be allowed to accept any “funding, grants, or gifts from any source other than from the governing authority of the county or municipality, the State of Georgia, or the federal government.”

The bill would require a photo ID for absentee voting, limit the timeframe voters have to request an absentee ballot, restrict where ballot drop boxes could be located and when they could be accessed, limit early voting hours on weekends, shorten Georgia’s runoff election period, and require counties to add more staff, equipment or polling places in large precincts with long voter lines. 

HB531 would establish numerous voter ID requirements surrounding mail-in absentee ballots, which, along with voter machine irregularities, contributed significantly to election fraud claims in the state. Under the new bill, voters would be able to request an absentee ballot up to 78 days before the election (right now, it is 180 days), and the returned ballot envelope would have to possess the voter’s driver’s license number, state ID card number, or the last four digits of their social security number. Currently, absentee ballots are counted using signature verification. In the absence of a government ID, the voter must provide a current copy of a bank statement, utility bill, paycheck, or other government document proving the voter’s name and address. Also, under the new bill, the absentee ballots and early votes must be received 11 days before election day. 

More attention would be placed on drop boxes under the new bill. Every county would have at least one dropbox (but no more than one per 100,000 active voters) located indoors at either an early voting site, the office of the board of registrars, or absentee ballot clerk and would only be open when the sites are open. The boxes would be required to be under constant surveillance “by an election official or his or her designee, law enforcement official, or licensed security guard.”

If passed, the new bill would forbid any government official, including election officials, from mailing out unsolicited applications for absentee ballots. Only authorized relatives or individuals helping a physically or mentally disabled voter may apply for an absentee ballot application on behalf of another. Also, election officials must not mail absentee ballots until four weeks before the election. 

HB531 would mandate that all counties have the same early voting dates and times: three weeks of Monday-through-Friday voting, one mandatory Saturday, and one additional Saturday or Sunday during the first weekend. According to the bill, streamlining early voting “sets more uniform voting times for advanced voting across the state and attempts to bring more uniformity to our state and less confusion.” HB531 also blocks the visibility of any campaign material, prohibits people from soliciting votes, or providing money or gifts, within 25 feet of voters standing in line at any polling station as well as within 150 feet of any polling location.

The current law specifies that if a provisional ballot is cast in the wrong precinct, election officials can still count the votes for elections in which the voter was allowed to vote. HB531 would no longer allow this. The new bill would also require that ballots be printed on “security paper that incorporates features which can be used to authenticate the ballot as an official ballot but which do not make the ballot identifiable to a particular elector. “

Lacking any meaningful attention in HB531 are the heavily scrutinized Dominion Voting Machines. It is important to note that HB531 was introduced by Republican State Rep. Barry Fleming, who chairs the House Special Committee on Election Integrity. Fleming has been a member of the Georgia House since 2002—the same year Georgia’s original unverifiable voting system was installed. Unfortunately, Fleming’s prior actions have led to some of the election fraud issues facing the state. When tasked to “fix” his earlier omnibus bill HB316, he crafted the current HB531 omnibus bill that established the least secure, most expensive voting option imaginable and enabled Secretary of State (SoS) Brad Raffensperger to purchase the Dominion Democracy Suite 5.5 system in 2019, which is at the heart of the state’s current security and election fraud concerns besetting the November 2020 election.

Additionally, when passing HB316 in 2019, Fleming overlooked all cost concerns associated with the bill, over objections from GA citizens who asked for a much less expensive, Hand Marked Paper Ballot (HMPB) solution. Which, according to VoterGA cost estimates and an [OSET] Institute analysis, would have saved over $50 million and $10 million more annually in testing, maintenance, licensing fees, and logistics.

According to the AJC, Georgia Democrats and their collaborators are presently behind “an extraordinary campaign at the Capitol and in the public square to derail the new Republican-backed voting restrictions moving through the statehouse.” Paid for by Stacy Abrams‘ Fair Fight Action group, a seven-figure ad campaign began attacking the airwaves last week, pushing the narrative that measures to restrict mail-in ballots will hurt everyone, including Republicans. 

President of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP James Woodall is also a leading critic of HB531, calling it a “shrine to the politicians.” He is spearheading a pushback campaign that started Monday, demanding that Georgia’s most prominent corporations take a stand against the proposed efforts to establish voter integrity. 

House Bill 531 now heads to the Georgia Senate, which is considering its own omnibus measure that would end, among other changes, no-excuse absentee voting.