When I was serving in the House I read the legislation I voted on. I say this because not everyone does. I would spend a lot of time diving into the weeds on legislation so I could understand what it actually does. Here is a sample of a bill summary I wrote on HB 531, the omnibus elections bill that passed the House today by a 97-72 party line vote.
I endeavored to remain as factual as possible without expressing an opinion about the bill. To my eye, this summary represents what I believe the bill actually does, devoid of criticism or cheerleading. And the caveat is that while I am well versed on Georgia Elections Law, I will leave room for the possibility I may have gotten some of it incorrect, but I am sure most of it is on point. Feel free to correct me in the comments.
So here it is, 66 pages of legislation condensed into 7. Enjoy, my fellow nerds! And yes, I did this for fun on a Monday evening. What?
Section 1 Pages 3-6
- Removes the Secretary of State as the chair of the State Election Board (SEB) and replaces them with a person elected by the General Assembly.
- Section one also outlines the process for how the new chair is to be elected, starting as a nomination in the House and confirmation by the Senate.
- Prohibitions against the chair participating in party activities and contributing to candidate campaigns are established in line 72-80.
- The candidate for chair must be nonpartisan and has to have refrained from participating in campaigns for two years, although participation is not clearly defined.
- Sets the term of office (Gives the House the ability to set the length of term which can vary) and establishes an interim appointment by the Governor if a vacancy is created while the General Assembly is not in session.
- Establishes the Secretary of State as a non-voting ex-officio member of the State Election Board.
Section 2 Page 6 lines 134-139
- Directs the Secretary of State to provide support or assistance requested by the State Election Board.
Section 3 Pages 6-7 Lines 140-169
- Establishes procedures for the State Election Board to create emergency rules or regulations provided they
- Give public notice
- Immediately notify the following of the time, date, and subject of the proposal at what has caused the emergency
- Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker, Chair of lections related committees in the House and Senate, Legislative Counsel, and the head of each political party.
- Requires a majority of the SEB to certify that the rule or regulation strictly adheres to OCGA 50-13-4
Section 4 pages 7-8 lines 170-191
- Prohibits county elections superintendents from accepting private money to run their offices.
Section 5 pages 8-9 lines 192-210
- Establishes the process for filling a vacancy or temporary incapacitation of a probate judge in counties that do not have a local board of elections.
Section 6 pages 9-10 lines 211-235
- Currently poll workers must live in the county they are serving and this expands the pool of poll workers to include residents of adjacent counties.
Section 7 page 10 lines 236-247
- Creates a new rule that should a candidate in a nonpartisan election die before that election that they would stay on the ballot and all votes for that candidate would still count.
- If the deceased candidate wins, the election would be handled under the failure to fill office provision of OCGA 21-2-504.
- Similar logic is applied to runoffs.
Section 8 pages 11-12 lines 248-259
- Prohibits board of registrars from accepting private money.
Section 9 Pages 12-13 lines 260-291
- Requires local elections superintendents to reduce the size of a voting precinct to 2000 voters if voters had to wait in line for more than an hour to check in on Election Day.
- Requires this change to be made at least 60 days ahead of the next election.
- Requires local poll manager to measure wait times not fewer than three times on Election Day.
Section 10 pages 13-14 lines 292-312
- Prohibits the use of mobile polling locations by counties unless authorized by emergencies declared by the Governor under his authority in OCGA 38-3-51.
- Allows local superintendents to select government buildings for advance voting in the same way they have authority for Election Day voting.
Section 11 pages 14-15 lines 313-347
- Clarifying that candidates who die before Election Day are handled in accordance with section 7 mentioned above.
Section 12 pages 15-16 lines 348-361
- Gives county elections superintendents authority to set the number of voting machines used for municipal elections, and requires one voting booth per 250 voters in a precinct for state wide elections.
Section 13 page 16 lines 362-370
- Creates a requirement that ballots be printed on security paper that incorporates features which can be used to authenticate the ballot but do not make the ballot identifiable to a particular voter.
Section 14 Pages 16-17 lines 371-397
- Creates a requirement for public notice of testing of various voting machine components.
- Party officials are to be notified, however they may not interfere with the testing or preparation of the voting machines.
Section 15 Pages 18-25 lines 398-605
- Reduces the earliest an absentee ballot application can be made from 180 before an election to 78 days.
- Closes off new absentee ballot applications to 11 days before the election.
- Creates requirement that absentee ballots be made on an application supplied by the Secretary of State.
- Creates a requirement for photo identification when applying for an absentee ballot.
- Voter signs an oath that certifies the info they include in the application is correct.
- Prohibits any government employee from sending an absentee application to a voter unless the voter has requested it.
- Prohibits anyone, except a relative, from sending out a prefilled absentee ballot application to any voter.
- No person will handle another person’s absentee ballot unless they are a relative, assisting a disabled person, a clerk, mail carrier while returning the ballot, or a law enforcement office in the course of an investigation.
- Requires absentee applications that are sent by third parties prominently display that the entity sending the application is not a governmental agency and that the application is not a ballot.
- Creates a requirement for the absentee ballot clerk to verify the identity of the applicant as well as their voting eligibility.
- Establishes that applications received after the deadline are to be denied.
- Establishes that identity mismatch may not be the sole reason an application is denied and allows for voters in these cases to be sent a provisional ballot. This provisional ballot would be subject to a curing process prior to being tallied.
- If the application is incomplete the clerk or registrar is to contact the voter in writing to get the required information including a signed oath.
- Requires each county to have at least one drop box.
- Counties would be allowed an additional drop box for each 100,000 voters or one for each early voting location, whichever is less.
- Creates requirement that each drop box is evenly geographically placed.
- Creates requirement that drop boxes are placed inside the board of registrars or absentee ballot clerks’ office or inside an early voting location.
- Creates a requirement that drop boxes are closed when voting is not being conducted.
- Creates a requirement that the drop boxes are under constant surveillance by an election official, their designee, licensed security guard, or a law enforcement officer.
- Creates requirements for the markings and features of the drop box.
- Requires a team of two people collect the ballots from the drop box at the end of each day.
- Requires ballot collectors to have sworn an oath.
- Clerk is required to store these ballots the same as ballots received via the mail.
- Requires poll manager to check that each box is empty at the beginning of each day and requires notification of the Secretary of State if the box is not empty.
Section 17 pages 28-36 lines 670-893
- Reduces number of days before a ballot must be sent to a voter from 49 to 29 days, and not less than 25 days, prior to an election.
- Overseas absentee ballots for federal elections would be sent beginning 49 days in advance of an election but not later than 45 days.
- Requires elections officials to respond within three days of receiving applications.
- Creates a provision that allows a person staying in a hospital to make an application for an absentee ballot on or ten days prior to Election Day.
- Adds fields for drivers license, last four of a social security number, or state issued id number.
- Creates a felony for anyone unauthorized to open an absentee ballot.
- Creates a requirement that instructions that ballots must be kept private except from people who are authorized to help someone complete their ballot.
- Adds language to the oath that under penalty of false swearing that no unauthorized person was allowed to observe the voter’s ballot.
- Create ranked choice voting for overseas ballots.
- Strikes existing law that allows ballots be sent overseas electronically.
Section 18 pages 36-40 Lines 894- 983
- Requires DL, last four of social security number, or ID card number be printed on the outer envelope of the absentee ballot.
- Early voting starts 4th Monday before Election Day and as soon as possible prior to a runoff, but no later than the second Monday before the runoff.
- Clarifies that regular business hours for early voting is from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on weekdays.
- Excludes observed state holidays from early voting.
- Registrars would choose either the third Saturday or third Sunday for early voting from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Previously polls would have closed at 4:00 PM.
- Allows registrars to open polls for advance voting from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM only on days approved in state law.
- Board or registrars are required to post public notice regarding times and places of early voting.
Section 19 Pages 40-49 Lines 984-1235
- Creates ID Check and verification for absentee voting.
- If ID info is a mismatch, the ballot is rejected and the voter is notified. Voter would then have until the end of the cure period to rectify their ID info in order for their ballot to be counted.
- Extends the time elections officials may begin to process the identification and scanning of absentee ballots to three weeks prior to an election.
- Establishes the prohibition of tallying (which is a separate function from scanning) until polls are closed on Election Day.
- Creates a public notice requirement of when and where scanning will take place.
- Creates a requirement for people scanning ballots to swear an oath.
- Establishes that each party in a county may have up to two people to monitor the absentee ballot scanning process (Judge appointed voters if only ballot referendum).
- Prohibits observers from interfering, using cameras, cell phones, campaigning, touching ballots or containers, tallying or estimating the total votes cast, or communicating what they see.
- Allows superintendents to begin tallying absentee ballots at 7:00 AM on Election Day.
- Creates process for cured ballots to be tallied.
- Creates requirement that absentee ballots are reported to the public as soon as possible (This is not defined) after the polls close.
Section 20 Pages 49-50 Lines 1236-1262
- Creates requirement that poll watchers are placed in an area where they can fairly observe the proceedings.
- Creates a training requirement for poll watchers.
- The Secretary of State would make training materials available to political parties for this purpose.
Section 21 Pages 50-51 Lines 1263-1279
- Prohibits giving voters any gift, including specifically money, food, or drink within 150 feet of a polling place. This is in addition to existing law that prohibits displaying or disseminating campaign materials.
Section 22 pages 51-53 Lines 1280-1347
- Creates a requirement that provisional ballots must be cast in the precinct where the voter is entitled to vote. If the voter is not entitled to vote in that precinct, their ballot would be invalid and will not be counted even if they are registered to vote in a different precinct.
Section 23 page 54 Lines 1348-1367
- Further clarifies use of Section 7 mentioned above.
Section 24 Pages 54-55 Line 1368-1387
- Further clarifies use of Section 7 mentioned above.
Section 25 Pages 55-56 Lines 1388-1415
- Creates a duplication panel for when ballots are torn or damaged. Panel is made up of part officials or others as necessary.
Section 26 Pages 56-57 Lines 1416-1431
- Extends the certification period from the Friday following the election to Monday.
- Removes the authority of the Secretary of State to use their judgement to extend certification.
Section 27 Pages 56-60 Lines 1432-1526
- Creates new language about not being sworn in unless the candidate received a majority of votes cast.
- Shortens special elections and runoffs to 28 days.
Section 28 Pages 60-64 Lines 1527-1611
- Eliminates jungle primaries and creates a special primary for offices appointed by the Governor.
- Strikes superfluous language about elections in 2014.
- Sets dates for special primaries and special elections for county and municipal elections.
- Candidates in special primaries are listed alphabetically on the ballot.
Section 29 Page 64 Lines 1612-1622
- Specifies where on the ballot special primary races are located.
Section 30 Page 64 Lines 1623-1635
- Requires a special primary be held at the same time as the next scheduled general primary after the governor appoints an interim replacement for an office.
Section 31 Page 65 Lines 1636-1652
- Further prohibits ballot harvesting.
Section 32 Page 65 Lines 1653-1666
- If the census data is not available within 120 days of a municipal election, reapportionment will be effective for subsequent election cycles.
Section 33 page 66 Line 1667-1668
Repeals conflicting laws