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Georgia House passes sweeping bill with new election police powers

The 40-page bill would give the Georgia Bureau of Investigations the power to launch voter fraud allegations, work that is currently overseen by state election officials. The Bureau of Investigations would also have the power to subpoena election records with the approval of the state attorney general.

It would also allow for public inspection of original ballots and make other changes to election procedures in this key battleground state.

The sweeping measure, now heading to the Georgia Senate, is part of a wave of bills passing through Republican-controlled state legislatures this year that seek to rewrite election procedures, following President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020. Former President Donald Trump and his allies falsely blamed his loss in Georgia and other key states on voter fraud.
Suffrage activists have denounced the proposed measures in Georgia as erecting new barriers to voting in a state that will host marquee races for governor and a U.S. Senate seat this year. As currently drafted, the changes would come into effect in July, ahead of the November general election.

And voting rights groups have warned that the involvement of state law enforcement in the fight against voter fraud could dampen voter turnout.

“It makes people think there’s a chance they’ll be investigated,” said Xakota Espinoza of Fair Fight Action, a group started by Stacey Abrams, who is running for the Democratic nomination. in the race for governor.

“What’s the need for this? They’re pushing this bill to appease conspiracy theorists.”

During the committee debate last week, GOP State Rep. Alan Powell said lawmakers were “trying to get to the point where everything is uniform — regardless of county.”

This, he said, would “take away any anxiety and concern that something was done wrong”.

Georgia House Republicans have moved quickly in recent days to advance the measure ahead of the state Legislature’s internal deadline Tuesday for bills to clean up at least one bedroom. The bill, which passed by a 98-73 vote, was the last bill considered on deadline day and was passed by the House shortly before 11 p.m. ET.

Republican lawmakers in the Georgia House unveiled the sweeping proposal last week — just as the GOP-controlled legislature in neighboring Florida gave final approval to an election security office wanted by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Milton Kidd, who oversees elections in Douglas County, west of Atlanta, said the Georgia Bureau of Investigations’ more direct involvement could deter poll workers and voters from participating.

“Election officials…told me they walked away from the electoral space because they feel like these are actions that will backfire on them,” Kidd said at a recent hearing. on the bill. “It’s going to have a chilling effect on voters participating in the process because, in most cases, the electoral issues that the Secretary of State has uncovered are administrative issues. These are issues that the current mechanism can actually deal with.”

The Florida State Legislature is leading the charge on a number of GOP priorities
Georgia and Florida are among the states that passed new voting restrictions last year.

The sweeping overhaul of Georgia’s 2021 election established new voter ID requirements for voting by mail, restricted the use of ballot boxes and allowed state takeover of local election commissions.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, Nichola Hines, president of the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County, said the proposal would complicate matters for election workers and voters who are already struggling to navigate the changes being made. by the Georgian Election Law of 2021 and the recent redistricting.

“Adding another round of voting at this late date,” she said, “is a recipe for disaster and is likely to confuse and suppress the votes of voters from both parties.”

The new proposals Georgia lawmakers are weighing focus more on election administration than ballot access.

One proposal, for example, establishes elaborate chain-of-custody procedures for processing mail-in ballots.

Another would prevent nonprofits from providing funds directly to local election administrators. Instead, these groups would first have to seek approval from the state Board of Elections, which would then distribute the grants to avoid funding inequities in the state.

Republican officials targeted donations funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to local election offices at the height of the pandemic in 2020. Conservatives say the grants helped make voting easier in Democratic areas – giving the party an unfair advantage.

Grant administrators have denied any partisan bias in distributing the money, which exceeded $340 million.

GOP gubernatorial candidate David Perdue calls for new Georgia Election Police Unit
Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in Georgia — the first for a Democrat in the state in nearly three decades — was certified after three ballot counts. And the judges dismissed several lawsuits for fraud.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating what steps Trump or his allies might take in their effort to overturn Biden’s victory. The investigation began last year following Trump’s call with Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he urged the Republican to “find” the votes to overturn the election results.

This title and story have been updated to reflect the passage of the bill by the House.

CNN’s Dan Berman contributed to this story.