On Dec. 4, I joined more than 100 current and newly-elected members of the Georgia House of Representatives in submitting a letter to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (SOS) and the State Election Board (SEB). This letter suggested improvements to Georgia’s absentee ballot verification process and additional staff options to provide support and oversight for precinct and county-level election operations. As you may know, the Secretary of State is responsible for the state-level administration of elections in Georgia, and the State Election Board is responsible for drafting additional rules and guidance for local Boards of Election.
Like many of you, we have serious concerns about Georgia’s election process. We are quickly approaching the election that will occur on January 5, 2021, and Georgia voters must have confidence in the election process going forward. You can find the full letter here, but I’d like to share with you the suggestions that we made below:
1. Absentee Ballot Application and Mail-In Absentee Ballot Signature Review Process
The current procedure for obtaining an absentee ballot starts with a voter submitting an absentee ballot application online or by mail. When the local Board of Registrars (BOR) receives a paper application, typically, only one employee is responsible for reviewing the signature on the application. If accepted, the BOR sends the applicant an absentee ballot to the voter. This process is largely the same when an absentee ballot is submitted. Additional people only evaluate the signature on the absentee ballot if the initial reviewer seeks to reject the ballot.
As we know, this year presented a massive increase in absentee ballot participation. Still, in many counties, a single person was responsible for accepting voter signatures on both applications and absentee ballots. To increase confidence in our election process, it is imperative that signatures be appropriately scrutinized and that the signature review process is above reproach.
With that goal in mind, we suggested that the signature review process on both absentee ballot applications and returned absentee ballots include independent observers from each political party. These independent observers should physically review the signatures on applications and absentee ballots and ask for additional review of signatures that do not appear legitimate. Any application or ballot that an observer flags should receive further consideration. Observers should also be allowed to make a note of applications or absentee ballots that should be challenged.
2. Utilization of Current State Employees by SOS
As many of you saw, news outlets reported significant failures in counties across our state before, during, and after Election Day. These counties were rural, suburban, and metro-area and represented all demographics and areas of our state.
Due to these failures, it is clear that additional support and oversight is needed at both the precinct and county levels on Election Day. In my letter, I proposed that the SOS work with other state agencies to allow their employees to work with the SOS on Election Day. Specifically, the SOS should deploy these individuals to observe Election Day activities at the precinct and county level, where additional support may be needed. To the extent that the SOS needs additional funds for these temporary services, I am confident that House leadership will do everything within our power to ensure that the necessary resources are available.
I have also reached out to the Secretary of State to ask for an update on any plans that he has made to implement either of our suggestions, and I look forward to sharing his feedback with you. Finally, I encourage you all to make plans to vote in the election that will be held on January 5, 2021, whether you choose to vote by Absentee Ballot, early vote in person, or vote on Election Day. It is truly an honor to work for you and this great state. If you have any feedback, do not hesitate to call (404.656.5052), email, or engage on Facebook. If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159 in the Georgia General Assembly, where he serves as the House majority leader.