Elections bill —
House Bill 531
House Bill 531 passed the full House on Monday, March 1. HB 531 is a comprehensive bill that touches many areas of the election process and elections administration. Many of you have reached out to ask for more detailed information about this bill, and I hope this email provides you with a better understanding of this bill and its importance.
State election board
The chairperson of the State Election Board will now be elected by the General Assembly, with the Secretary of State becoming an ex-officio, non-voting member of the board. If the State Election Board intends to create new emergency rules for an election, they are required to notify elected officials (including the General Assembly) and the public. Additionally, the circumstances in which these new emergency rules can be created are narrowly defined.
Private donations to
boards of registrars,
Boards of registrars and election superintendents are prohibited from accepting funds from sources other than a county, municipal, state, or federal governing authority. Private donations may no longer be made to boards of registrars and elections superintendents.
Absentee ballot applications will be accepted beginning 78 days prior to an election and ending 11 days prior to an election (the second Friday before an election) to ensure that electors are able to receive and return their absentee ballot in time for it to be counted. The Secretary of State and other Government entities are prohibited from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters. Absentee Ballot applications must be available on Secretary of State and county websites.
Absentee ballot applications can be sent by other organizations. The organization sending the absentee ballot application must also clearly and prominently identify itself on the face of the application, state that it is not a governmental entity, that the application is not a ballot, and that the completion of the application is not required to vote.
Absentee ballot applications and the absentee ballots themselves must include the voter’s driver’s license number or identification card number found on a state-issued ID, which can be obtained free of charge at the elections office or at the Department of Driver’s Services local offices. If the voter does not have either ID number, the voter must submit a photocopy of an approved ID form with their application for an absentee ballot and with their absentee ballot.
Elections supervisors are allowed to start scanning absentee ballots into the system two weeks before election day. They are required to begin scanning absentee ballots into the system one week before election day. The process must be open to the public, but only the superintendent, their employee, or their designee is allowed to touch the ballots or ballot container. Anyone involved in processing or scanning absentee ballots must swear an oath before beginning the process. The tally of the scanned absentee ballots cannot be reviewed until after polls close on election day. Absentee ballots must be printed on security paper which will prevent counterfeit ballots from entering the system.
Absentee ballot drop boxes
Each county is required to have one secure absentee ballot drop box. If a county has more than 100,000 voters, they may have additional drop boxes (1 per 100,000 voters). All drop boxes must be located inside an early voting location or the board of registrars or board of elections offices. The drop boxes are only open during early voting hours, and they must be actively monitored by elections officials. Absentee ballots will be collected each evening, and the drop boxes will be certified empty each morning before being opened to receive ballots.
Early voting will begin the fourth Monday prior to the election day. Early voting locations must be open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on weekdays. Early voting locations are permitted to be open between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM if they choose to do so. Locations are required to be open on the second Saturday prior to election day, and locations must be open one day of the third weekend prior to election day (on either Saturday or Sunday).
House Bill 531 will now go to the Senate for their review and changes may be made before a final version is completed. Thank you for your interest in election reform. Please let me know your thoughts on this bill.