Residency battles could trap many Georgia voters

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Republicans are considering a new wave of election legislation that could make it easier to scrap immigration challenges, remove thousands of people from voter rolls, and ban ballot boxes, which in turn will do justice to those who want victory from President Joe Biden is still in denial in 2020, two years after a GOP-driven electoral law overhaul was signed into law in the politically competitive state amid widespread outcry.

“Election deniers will never be satisfied…” Kristen Nabers, the director of Georgia’s All Voting is Local constituency, told the Senate Ethics Committee Thursday. “They will just keep pushing to uphold conspiracy theories in the name of greater transparency.”

However, the sponsor says the bill would allay voter concerns and discourage counties from interpreting the existing law in different ways.

“It’s a trust law,” said Max Burns, chair of the Georgia Senate Ethics Committee, a Republican from Sylvania. “It’s the ability to ensure that when we implement the laws of Georgia, we consistently follow them. There are many counties that interpret the law differently.”

The bill was rewritten several times Monday and Tuesday and passed by the Senate Ethics Committee after limited debate, although Blake Evans, the state’s chief election officer, warned members that a provision allowing the state to ban voters who reside in another state register, remove automatically, illegal is federal law.

After the ethics committee originally proposed requiring counties to record video of every dropbox, the ethics committee spontaneously decided during its Tuesday meeting to ban dropboxes statewide, scrapping a voting method that opponents claimed without any evidence to use it allowed a massive fraud, Trump stole the 2020 election.

Burns promised more changes later in the process.

The bill would also prohibit counties from hiring non-US citizen poll workers and allow counties to opt out of the state’s electronic ballots in favor of hand-marked paper ballots.

A separate bill would make it a crime for county officials to take private money to pay for elections after Republicans attacked an Atlanta suburb for taking such money.

The new language responds to concerns among Republican primary voters, who still believe voting in Georgia is unsafe even though the state’s 2022 election passed without widespread controversy. It would build on Georgia’s 2021 election law, which was enacted against stiff opposition and said every voter in the state could file an unlimited number of contestations of eligibility to vote, shortened the deadline for requesting a postal vote and shortened the deadline for early voting a runoff

The measure still has a long way to go before it becomes law, and Tuesday’s impromptu changes are likely to draw further opposition. But this year’s proposal could allow activists who have challenged tens of thousands of registrations across Georgia to delist those voters simply because their names appear in the US Postal Service’s change of address database.

County officials have dismissed most of these challenges, saying residency for voting purposes is more complicated than appearing on a change of address list. Officials have generally held that a challenger must know firsthand that someone is unqualified, rather than picking names from a list. However, Burns said he would like counties to request a hearing and possibly delist someone based on the lists.

“The most important thing is to make sure everyone on our electoral rolls is a legitimate, legal voter,” Burns said.

Challenges would be denied if someone could show they were in military service, a student attending college away from home, or on federal service in Washington, DC. However, opponents say the list is inaccurate and that the state should not shift the burden of staying on the rolls back onto voters.

“Every single one of these people has a voter challenge to face. That’s how it’s going to work,” said Vasu Abhiraman, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “The conspiracy theorists will dig up their names from the change registers and try to disenfranchise them.”

The measure also hits another target of election deniers – ballot boxes. Georgia first used Dropboxes as part of an emergency rule during the 2020 pandemic. But Republican activists besieged lawmakers in 2021 with claims that Democrats illegally collected and dropped ballots at unsupervised outdoor boxes. The 2021 law codified the use of boxes but severely restricted the number of boxes used by requiring them to be in early in-person polling stations and to be constantly monitored.

The bill originally proposed that all of Georgia’s 159 counties should record video from each dropbox, including ensuring “the faces of every person using the dropbox are visible,” and making that video freely available online and using it for at least four years to be retained.

Videos of drop boxes, including some where voters dropped multiple ballots, have been at the heart of election conspiracy theories, including a film called 2000 Mules, which suggested pro-democracy activists were allegedly being paid to illegally collect ballots and to deliver.

A second measure would make it a crime for county officials to accept money in excess of their own tax revenues, except from the state or federal government to conduct elections. It’s an extension of a provision in the 2021 law that barred poll officials from accepting outside money after Republicans were alarmed that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated more than $400 million to poll officials nationwide.

Recently, DeKalb County, a suburb of Atlanta, accepted $2 million from the US Alliance for Election Excellence to seek improvements and share best practices. The alliance includes the Center for Tech and Civic Life, Zuckerberg’s primary funding vehicle as of 2020. That sparked a string of Republican convictions that DeKalb broke the law.

However, the money was accepted by the county commission and not the elections office, and some have said it is legal for elected county commissioners to accept grants.

“The pursuit of grants to supplement the operating budget is a common and ethical practice for county governments in this state,” Karli Swift, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections, told the committee Monday.


Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at