On Friday, a meeting of the Special Committee on Election Integrity was scheduled for the House dinner break, and then later rescheduled for 8am on Monday, April 4, the last day of this year’s regular legislative session. According to the agenda, the committee is scheduled to take up SB 89, which was passed by the Senate as a six-page bill creating the position of “chief elections assistance officer” within the Secretary of State’s office. Livestream of the meeting should be available here.
Earlier this week, the Senate Ethics Committee stripped most of the language from an elections “omnibus” bill, HB 1464 – deleting language that would have created a new special law enforcement bureaucracy to investigate elections allegations. However, $579,936 in new funding for the “Elections Police” is still in the pending state budget.
Last night, Common Cause Georgia obtained a copy of an 11-page proposed Committee Substitute for SB 89.
- includes the new “Election Police” provisions stripped from HB 1464 by the Senate Ethics Committee, but with expanded jurisdiction – under this version, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations would be empowered to investigate anything which could create “doubt” about the results of an election;
- would authorize public inspection of ballots and other elections materials, after an election is certified;
- creates new “chain of custody” duties for already-overworked elections officials – similar to, but less onerous than, provisions stripped from HB 1464 by the Senate Ethics Committee after elections officials objected; and
- includes the “time off to vote, during early voting” provisions that were in the version of HB 1464 reported out by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Based on the process used to pass SB 202, last year, Common Cause Georgia expects legislative leadership to attempt to push this proposal through the entire legislative process on Monday. Last year, Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 202 just hours after the final version of the bill was unveiled on the House floor. Read our statements here and here.
Monday is the last day of this regular legislative session.
Statement of Common Cause Georgia Executive Director Aunna Dennis
I’ll say it again: a rushed legislative process almost never leads to good public policy – at least, not good from the voters’ point of view.
Presumably, some partisan or special interest thinks it’s a good idea to spend $580,000 of Georgia taxpayer money on a new ‘Election Police’ force – or the language stripped by Senate Ethics would not have reappeared in this last-minute proposal.
Last year’s rushed process harmed voters by making it much harder for us to use ballot dropboxes to return our voted ballots. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to make it more difficult for Georgians to vote – and suddenly, it was law.
This year’s rushed process looks likely to cost Georgia taxpayers $580,000 a year – which will be spent chasing conspiracy theories, if anything and everything that creates ‘doubt’ about our elections is suddenly up for investigation.
It also looks likely to add to the burden on our already-overworked elections officials.
The Senate Ethics Committee had good reasons to strip these provisions out of HB 1464.
When the Legislature takes up SB 89 on Monday, we hope that the Senate Ethics Committee’s reasoning will prevail over whatever special interests are driving these proposals.