Election officials blast Georgia bill as ‘security theater’

ATLANTA (AP) — Some Georgia county election administrators are blasting proposed changes to state election law as “security theater,” which would waste time and money while driving away scarce election workers.

The county officials pushed back on House Bill 1464 during a Monday hearing before the Senate Ethics Committee.

The measure, earlier passed by the House, would let the Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigate election fraud without an invitation from other officials, would create extensive new chain-of-custody requirements for handling ballots, would allow only the State Election Board to accept private donations for election administration and would let people physically inspect paper ballots after an election.

No vote was taken Monday. Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican, has indicated changes are likely.

The new bill has raised alarms among voting rights group still angry over last year’s restrictive voting law, which reduced the time to request an absentee ballot, stripped power from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and severely rolled back the pandemic-driven expansion of absentee ballot drop boxes. But critics of Georgia elections on Monday asked the committee to add further rules aimed at preventing what they believe is widespread fraud. Investigations and recounts after the 2020 election found no significant fraud.

One target of officials’ ire was a proposed requirement to count blank pieces of ballot paper, which officials said would provide no security boost. Joel Natt, the deputy chairman of the Forsyth County election board, showed off a ream of paper, and said his county would have to perform three separate checks on each package, including trying to count all 500 sheets and checking the weight of the paper.

Tonnie Adams of Heard County said the paper would then have to be put in separate secured boxes, and that remaining blank paper would have to be counted at the end of every early voting day.

Natt said that would be a huge demand in Forsyth County, with 172,000 registered voters.

“Think about how much paper I have to order for every election,” Natt said. “That is a lot of counting. That is a lot of time.”

Joseph Kirk, the election supervisor in Bartow County, said that while chain-of-custody is important outside a county’s secured election room, the proposed additional requirements provide no benefit inside a secure room.

“Having security procedures in a secured authorized-access only room is security theater,” Kirk said. “That’s what slows down your resources that we need to dedicate to other things that really matter.”

Election officials said they were concerned about implementing more changes while they were trying to deal with last year’s changes, redistricting, and a new electronic voter registration system.

“You’re in the middle of an election cycle as you’re trying to push these bills into law, which reduces the opportunity for the counties to comply with this,” said Karen Evans-Daniel, a member of the Macon-Bibb County elections board.

Opponents say said Republican demands for more paperwork to track ballot movements, control over grant money by the Republican-majority State Election Board, and provisions granting poll watchers “meaningful” access to vote counting all sprang out of conspiracy theories that disgruntled Donald Trump supporters have hatched to explain how their candidate lost Georgia in 2020.

Officials on Monday said that the donation rule could disrupt relationships with churches and other groups that donate their buildings for polling places. The ban is aimed at prohibiting private financial donations to election agencies from people including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Some Republicans say those donations unfairly favor Democratic counties.

“You’re essentially wanting to create multiple unfunded mandates and at the same time, cut off election boards’ ability to to obtain funding,” said Carly Swift, a DeKalb County election board member.

Longtime Georgia election systems critic Garland Favorito praised the requirement allowing physical inspections of ballots.

“It makes our ballots public record so that the public can verify election results and detect suspect counts and counterfeit ballots,” Favorito said.

But others warned the provision could enable citizen audits like the one conducted in Arizona.

“Superior Court clerks will be inundated with open records requests with no funding and no staff to conduct the insurmountable requests that are sure to come for this election cycle and beyond,” said Patricia Pullar, a Clayton County elections board member.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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