On Friday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 202, the 'Election Integrity Act of 2021.' The bill is intended to ensure election integrity in Georgia's elections by placing restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are governed. But the measure failed to address a pivotal component of the state's election disaster last November, specifically electronic voting equipment.
Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who sponsored SB 202, currently has a separate omnibus election bill awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. His 45-page HB 531 aims to amend Chapter 2 of Title 21 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated "relating to elections and primaries generally, to provide that no election superintendents or boards of registrars shall accept private funding; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes."
The amended bill would, among other security enhancements:
- provide for the certification and testing of voting equipment;
- provide for the use of overt, covert, and forensic level security elements on ballots;
- provide for the storage and retention of absentee ballots by precinct with a secure chain of custody;
- provide for a high-security end to end secure supply chain for ballots using a secure print facility, restricted security inks, restricted ink markers, and verification devices for the security elements on ballots;
- provide for the maintenance of certain lists of absentee voters; provide for certain audits;
- provide that it shall be illegal to observe how an elector votes.
Facing clear opposition from the radical left, the measure was amended last week by the Senate Committee on Ethics to allow counties to buy their own voting machines amid distrust over the new Dominion Voting Systems machines that made their debut in Georgia in last year's elections. The proposed bill states:
"The State Election Board, the members thereof, the Secretary of State, and any of their attorneys or staff shall not have any authority to enter into any consent agreement with any other person that limits, alters, or interprets any provision of this chapter without obtaining the approval of the General Assembly through a joint resolution."
The current law indicates all primaries and elections in the state "shall be conducted by ballot, except when voting machines are used as provided by law." The amended bill states, "a ballot shall contain a paper component, even if produced on an electronic ballot marking device."
Further revisions are proposed relating to the official primary ballot and the form of the ballot in nonpartisan municipal primaries to include adding the name and designation of the precinct on the top of all ballots, including absentee ballots. The bill is further amended related to voting by ballot, adding a new section to read as follows:
"Every ballot used in primaries and elections in this state, including paper ballots, ballots used in optical scanning voting systems, and ballots produced by electronic ballot markers shall have overt, covert, and forensic elements embedded in the ballots of which some of these security elements can be validated at the polling place at the time of voting. Such devices or seals shall not be capable of identifying the elector who cast the ballot but shall be designed to restore voter confidence in the ballot and to prevent fraud."
While the current law relating to voting equipment in the state reads, "The equipment used for casting and counting votes in the county, state, and federal elections shall be the same in each county in this state and shall be provided to each county by the state, as determined by the Secretary of State," the proposed amendment, which indicates each vote shall produce a verifiable paper trail, states:
"The governing authority of a county may purchase, lease, or otherwise acquire any election system that has been certified as eligible for use in this state by the State Election Board."
The bill further amends municipal governing authorities' power relating to the installation of voting machines, discontinuance of use of paper ballots (which is currently part of the Code), minimum number, different types, and requirements for working order and capacity as follows:
"Voting machines of different kinds may be used for different precincts in the same municipality so long as all voting machines produce a verifiable paper trail."
Moreover, the current bill is amended by revising regulations relating to safekeeping, certification, and validation of absentee ballots, rejection of ballot, delivery of ballots to the manager, duties of managers, precinct returns, and notification of challenged elector. It also adds changes regarding scanning absentee ballots, stating:
"Beginning at 8:00 A.M. on the second Monday prior to the day of the primary, election, or runoff, the superintendent shall be authorized to open the outer envelope of absentee ballots that have been verified and accepted in such a manner as not to destroy the oath printed thereon, remove the contents of such outer envelope, or to open the inner envelope marked 'Official Absentee Ballot, and scan the absentee ballot using one or more ballot scanners. At least three persons who are registrars, deputy registrars, poll workers, or absentee ballot clerks must be present before commencing; and three persons who are registrars, deputy registrars, or absentee ballot clerks shall be present at all times while the absentee ballot envelopes are being opened and the absentee ballots are being scanned.
The proceedings set forth in this subsection shall be open to the view of the public, but no person except a person employed and designated by the superintendent shall touch any ballot or ballot container. Any person involved in processing absentee ballots shall swear or affirm an oath, in the same form as the oath for poll officers, prior to beginning the processing and scanning of the absentee ballots.
The ballots shall be subject to security review at all times by authorized security auditors trained and equipped to detect ballot fraud. Upon the conclusion of the counting, the absentee ballots shall be sorted and stored by precinct in security sealed containers. Best practices of chain of custody for such containers shall be maintained and subject to authorized security auditors inspection and review until such ballots can be legally disposed of."
HB 531 passed the House on Mar. 1 and was read for a second time by the Senate Ethics committee on Mar. 25, where it remains for further debate.