The House Special Committee on Election Integrity is scheduled to meet this morning to take a second look at a bill that sponsor Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) believes would go “a long way in restoring the public’s confidence in the state’s election process.” Fleming, who chairs the new House committee, introduced the bill Thursday afternoon. After more than an hour of discussions, he announced that members would be back this morning to continue discussions and hear testimony on HB 531. 

“I expect us to have a lot of discussion on the bill and a lot of testimony — over 100 people have asked to be notified,” said Fleming. “We will wait and see what happens in this hearing to decide if we vote.” 

Several Democrats on the committee asked Fleming to put off the hearing until Monday, and Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) asked Fleming to consider waiting until Monday for a vote. “I hope you consider letting us all get a good night’s sleep over the weekend before voting,” said Smyre, who also commended Fleming for taking on the process of addressing election reform. 

The 48-page bill addresses a number of election reform issues — including the absentee ballot application process and requirements for identification when requesting a ballot, timelines for absentee ballots, drop boxes, voter wait times and jungle primaries.   

According to Fleming, under HB 531, jungle primaries like the one held in 2020 to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Johnny Isakson that saw 20 candidates on the ballot, would be eliminated. There would be exceptions for U.S. Congress seats and state House and Senate seats where no process exists for an appointment to fill empty seats. 

This bill would also require all drop boxes for ballots to be placed inside an early voting site and would set requirements for local elections officers to make changes if an analysis showed that voters had to stand in line for more than an hour to cast their ballots. “They would be required to find ways to reduce wait time in the next election. That may mean more voting machines, it might mean adding precincts or bringing in more poll workers,” said Fleming. 

HB 531 also addresses the issue of allowing out-of-county poll workers. “This bill would allow for people who live in one county to work the polls in an adjoining county,” said Fleming. 

Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) said he would like to see representatives from the state elections office to be on hand for the next meeting to address issues included in this bill, and how the proposed legislation would impact local elections offices, as well as the state. 

“We have hit on 10 or 12 points in this bill,” said Powell. “I would like to hear from the state folks how these would impact them.” 

Across the hall, the Senate Ethic Committee Thursday approved SB 67 that would require Georgia voters to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot. The bill could reach the full Senate for a vote next week. 

The Senate committee also passed SB 89 which would create a  chief elections assistance officer position within the secretary of state’s office, and SB 40 that would require election workers to open and scan absentee ballots starting eight days before election day. Vote counts couldn’t be reported until after polls close on election day. 

  

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