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Georgia House Republicans advance bill to allow state police to investigate voter fraud

The legislation would empower the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which typically works with local law enforcement agencies on major crimes, to hunt for election code violations.
A polling place worker holds an "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker to hand to a voter on June 9, 2020 in Atlanta.
A polling place worker holds an "I'm a Georgia Voter" sticker to hand to a voter in Atlanta on June 9, 2020.Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images file

Georgia House Republicans advanced a bill that would give the state's bureau of investigations jurisdiction over election crimes and voter fraud, just days after Florida legislators voted to create their own voter fraud police force.

The 39-page bill, which passed the GOP-controlled state House late Tuesday, would empower the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which typically works with local law enforcement agencies on major crime investigations, to hunt for election code violations. It would give the statewide agency power to subpoena documents with the consent of the attorney general and conduct any audits it sees fit.

The legislation, which would also make changes to election administration, comes after state Republicans passed a sweeping election law last year that added ID requirements for mail voters and limited the use of ballot drop boxes, among other changes.

Fair Fight Action, the New Georgia Project and other advocates are mobilizing to oppose the bill, which will head to the Senate next.

Election code violations are overseen by the Elections Division in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office, which investigates such matters.

Raffensperger, a Republican, refused to bow to pressure from President Donald Trump to overturn his loss in Georgia in 2020 and has been criticized by Trump allies. In last year's bill, the Legislature removed Raffensperger from chairing the Election Board within the division.

"The way it's always worked up to this point is that the secretary of state's office — the people who actually f------ understand the election — they do the initial investigation," said Nsé Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, arguing that giving jurisdiction to the GBI would have a chilling effect on voters.

The bill moved quickly through the Legislature this month, passing out of the House in the final hours of Tuesday's “crossover day" — the final day when bills must pass out of one chamber to make passage in the other chamber possible before the legislative session ends April 4.

The bill would limit the required number of voting machines counties must provide on Election Day by changing the formula for how many machines must be supplied. The change aims to account for the large numbers of mail and early voters in the state.

Advocates, however, warn that could create long lines at the polls. Ufot argued that lawmakers shouldn't write policy based on how voters behaved during a pandemic because some might return to in-person voting.

The bill would also provide new rules for how outside groups could provide donations or grants to election workers by requiring groups to request permission before they offer, as well as making contributions to the State Election Board, which would then distribute the donations in a "fair and equitable" manner. During the 2020 election, cash-strapped counties applied for and received millions in grants from groups to help them run elections in the coronavirus pandemic.

Voting rights advocates warn that would stop nonprofit organizations from donating food and water a year after the Legislature banned groups from giving voters food and water while they wait in line, as well as keep counties from much-needed grant money.

The bill would add restrictions to how ballots are handled before elections while removing the requirement that ballots be sealed for two years after elections. Advocates say unsealing ballots would make it easier for third-party groups to conduct audits. Last year, Trump supporters seeking an audit went to court to try to get ballots unsealed; the suit was dismissed after Georgia investigators told the court they could not find any counterfeit ballots.

Last week, Florida legislators passed a bill that would create their own election crimes police force, spending nearly $4 million to hire 25 people within the State Department and the state's police agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to investigate voter fraud. An Arizona Republican state senator also proposed similar legislation this year.