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Georgia legislators pass bill to allow state police to investigate voter fraud

The legislation would empower the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to hunt for election crimes. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign it.
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Legislators in Georgia passed a controversial election bill Monday night that would give the state’s bureau of investigations jurisdiction over election crimes and voter fraud.

Voting rights advocates have argued that the measure would have the effect of intimidating voters and election workers.

SB 441 passed the House and the Senate on party-line votes just before midnight on the last day of the current legislative session. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, is expected to sign it.

It passed after a seesaw turn of events over the last several weeks as legislators repeatedly grappled with various bills related to voting rights and election administration.

Some of the most contentious parts of an earlier version of the bill, which included the provision to empower the GBI and many other elements, were removed following pushback from state election workers. They argued that the legislation, HB 1464, proposed rules about ballot handling and outside donations that would make it difficult to do their jobs.

However, Republicans on Monday night salvaged the most unpopular piece of the original bill — empowering the GBI, which typically works with local law enforcement agencies on major crime investigations, to hunt for election crimes and voter fraud — and inserted it into another bill, which they passed.

The measure would give the agency power to subpoena documents with the consent of the attorney general and conduct any audits it sees fit. 

Election code violations are overseen by the Elections Division in Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office. Raffensperger, a Republican, has become a target of allies of former President Donald Trump after he refused to overturn the 2020 election count.

Other parts of HB 1464 were removed from the final bill, including limits on the number of voting machines counties must provide on Election Day, new rules for how outside groups could provide donations or grants to election workers, restrictions on how ballots are handled before elections and removal of the requirement that ballots be sealed for two years after elections.

Voting rights advocates still blasted passage of the bill and called on Kemp to veto it.

“Tonight’s rushed passage of SB 441 is the clearest sign yet that Georgia Republicans care more about appeasing conspiracy theorists and perpetuating the Big Lie than they do about upholding our democratic institutions," Cianti Stewart-Reid, the executive director of the national voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, said in a statement.

"SB 441 would undermine our democracy by giving new sweeping powers for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations that effectively green light the intimidation of both voters and election officials. As a result, this legislation would further burden the process of running our elections and embolden conspiracy theorists as well as threaten our elections workers," she added.

State Republicans last year passed the so-called Election Integrity Act, which added ID requirements for mail voters and limited the use of ballot drop boxes, among other changes. 

Kemp, who championed the 2021 bill, said in January that he felt it was not necessary to further change election laws after last year’s overhaul, but he and other top Republicans later backed off that position.

The proposals in Georgia are part of a broader trend of voting restrictions proposed in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.