With the recent passage by the Georgia House of Representatives of House Bill 531, the state has made a good start on amending its election rules to reform the system and fix the many security vulnerabilities that currently exist—vulnerabilities that fueled the controversy over election results in Georgia in 2020.
Legislators have proposed several amendments to the state’s election code relating to primaries and elections. Among them: revisions to how absentee ballots and early voting are handled. Considering some of the problematic voting procedures utilized in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election, this bill is certainly a step in the right direction.
One of the most-needed reforms in House Bill 531 is adding an identification requirement to absentee ballots. Georgia has had a model voter ID statute for more than a decade that requires a government-issued photo ID to vote in person—and the state provides a free ID to anyone who lacks one.
The current ID law applies only to in-person voting and not absentee ballots, as the voter ID law in Alabama does. It is important to understand that signature comparison is a very insecure way of ensuring it is actually the registered voter who completed and returned an absentee ballot.
Handwriting analysis is more of an art than a science, and the average election worker lacks the training necessary to do it, particularly in the very brief time they have to review thousands of absentee ballots. Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Victor Joecks illustrated this last year when he mailed nine absentee ballots with forged signatures to election officials. Only one was caught; the others sailed through without detection.
The House bill would require voters applying for an absentee ballot to provide either a photocopy of the same IDs acceptable for in-person voting or the serial number of their Georgia driver’s license or non-driver’s photo identification card. The state will still conduct signature comparison, but an ID requirement is an added—and necessary—layer of security to protect voters.
The bill also amends state law to protect voters using absentee ballots from predatory voter traffickers—political operatives, campaign staffers, party activists and other third parties with a stake in the outcome of the election. It would prohibit anyone other than a relative or a person assisting an illiterate or physically disabled voter from requesting absentee ballot applications or handling or delivering the completed absentee ballots.
This can prevent the altering or changing of a voter’s absentee ballot, as well as protect that voter from coercion and pressure by a political operative in a voter’s home, where—unlike in polling places—there are no election officials to prevent such misbehavior. Anyone who doubts this happens should look at the 9th Congressional District race in North Carolina in 2018, which was overturned due to this type of criminal behavior.
The Georgia House also showed its concern over the risks posed by unsecured, unguarded drop boxes for absentee ballots. The bill places limits on the number of drop boxes that can be established by a county and requires that they be located at the office of the county board of registrars or inside locations where early voting is conducted. The drop boxes have to be under constant surveillance by an election official, law enforcement official or licensed security guard.
Another important provision is one banning private funding of election officials and election officers, something that happened in the 2020 election. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg contributed $350 million to an organization that distributed those funds to local boards of elections nationwide, including in Georgia. These were supposedly “nonpartisan” grants, but an analysis by the Capital Research Center showed that the grants were targeted “to known Democratic districts to turn out its base in battleground states.”
There are many other changes to Georgia law in the House bill on other issues such as early voting and poll watchers, which are intended to directly address challenges seen across the country in the 2020 presidential election. The bill is a big first step in the right direction to protect both access and security, which should be the key objectives of any state’s election process.
This piece originally appeared in The Augusta Chronicle