Georgia House Governmental Affairs Committee to hold hearings on Election security next week

Georgia Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe) said the House Governmental Affairs Committee will be holding hearings next week focused on election security.

“I very much look forward to participating,” Williamson said. He also shared a copy of a letter delivered to the Secretary of State on Friday urging his office and the State Elections Board to implement common sense security measures for the upcoming Jan. 5, 2020 runoff election. 

House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) and House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) announced the hearings in a press release on Friday. These hearings on voting processes and elections in Georgia will begin next week.

“Ahead of the critical Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff, it is imperative that we ensure free and fair elections that inspire confidence and certainty in the result,” Ralston said. “For that reason, I’m asking Chairman Blackmon and his committee to act swiftly and aggressively and follow the facts wherever they may lead so as to reassure Georgia voters their vote will count in January. Over the last year, I have been outspoken regarding my concerns with election processes like jungle primaries and mail-in voting, and I will continue to advocate for transparent and secure elections.”

The House Governmental Affairs Committee will convene on Thursday, Dec. 10 to continue the work they began earlier this year looking into irregularities with the June 2020 primary election. The House of Representatives spent much of the 2020 legislative session discussing election laws, which included concerns about the legality of the Secretary of State’s decision to send out unsolicited mail-in ballot applications without legislative input or oversight.  

The focus of the committee’s work next week focus on the upcoming U.S. Senate runoff and other future elections.

“We appreciate Speaker Ralston’s support of this effort, and take seriously the trust placed in us to conduct this inquiry in a thorough and expeditious fashion,” Blackmon said in the press release. “Our committee will seek any credible evidence of fraud or wrong-doing and determine what, if any, legislative action may be necessary to preserve the sanctity of the ballot box. When our Democratic colleagues had concerns earlier this year, Speaker Ralston asked our committee to investigate, and he has done so again now in light of current concerns. I know our members will welcome the opportunity to examine and debate this crucial topic.”

Further details about the hearing will be released next week. The House Governmental Affairs Committee report on the June 2020 primary election may be found here:   http://www.house.ga.gov/Documents/CommitteeDocuments/2020/GovernmentalAffairs/Elections_Investigation_Report.pdf.

Blackmon’s committee also has established an email for Georgians to report voting irregularities at GAFF@house.ga.gov.

Below is the letter to SOS Brad Raffensperger and Rebecca . Sullivan, VP of the State Election Board, signed by the current and incoming members of the House GOP Caucus.

Dear Secretary Raffensperger and Mrs. Sullivan,

As I am sure you have seen over the past month, many Georgians, including my colleagues who have signed this correspondence, have serious concerns about Georgia’s elections. As we approach a critical election on January 5, 2021, it is clear that Georgia voters must have confidence in the election process going forward. To that end, below you will find two common-sense suggestions: a rule that should be promulgated by the State Election Board (the “SEB”) and additional resources of which the Office of the Secretary of State (the “SOS”) or the SEB could take advantage.

I. Absentee Ballot Application and Mail-In Absentee Ballot Signature Review Process. As the process currently stands, when a voter wishes to vote early by mail, they submit an Absentee Ballot Application (“Application”) either through the mail or online. When a local Board of Registrars (the “BOR”) receives a paper Application, typically, a single employee of the BOR is responsible for the initial review of a signature on a paper Application. If that paper Application is accepted, the BOR mails an Absentee Ballot to the voter. The process for reviewing signatures on the external envelope of a returned Absentee Ballot is the same – a single employee of the BOR is allowed to “approve” a signature without oversight by other employees or independent observers. Additional BOR staff members are only involved in reviewing signatures when the initial reviewer seeks to reject the ballot. Even with the massive increase in Absentee Ballot participation this year, in many counties, a single solitary person is responsible for accepting voter signatures on Applications and Absentee Ballots themselves. This fact is alarming to me, my colleagues who have co-signed this correspondence, and Georgians across the state.

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, I propose the SEB promulgate a rule requiring that the signature review process on Absentee Ballot applications and Absentee Ballots include an independent observer from each political party represented in the races on the reviewed ballots. (In Georgia, this would typically be a Republican and a Democratic observer, but it may also include a Libertarian (or another third party) observer where the race warrants it.) These independent observers would be entitled to physically review the signatures on Applications and Absentee Ballots and, when discrepancies are observed, to ask for additional review of those signatures. Those “flagged” Applications and Absentee Ballots would then go through further scrutiny, which should occur before the Absentee Ballot is removed from its outer envelope. This guidance should also allow these independent observers the opportunity to note Applications or Absentee Ballots that should be challenged.

Additionally, this rule should apply to the review and processing of applications for military and overseas ballots and the ballots themselves, including throughout the period after Election Day when these military and overseas ballots are legally allowed to be received and processed.

II. Utilization of Current State Employees by the SOS. Multiple 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. This is unacceptable.

Due to these failures, I am confident that the SOS wishes to provide more support and oversight to counties. I propose that the SOS contract with other state agencies willing and able to temporarily allow their employees to perform services on behalf of the SOS. Specifically, the SOS should deploy these individuals to observe Election Day activities at the precinct and county level, where additional support may be needed. Alternatively, the SEB may wish to enter into agreements with state agencies to perform similar investigatory activities pursuant to OCGA § 21-2-31(5). The SOS or the SEB should seek out individuals who have investigative backgrounds or experience in administering elections, as they will likely have a skill set that lends itself to this type of work. To the extent that the SOS or the SEB needs additional funds for these temporary services, I am confident that the leadership of the Georgia House of Representatives, many of whom have signed this correspondence, will do everything within our power to ensure that the necessary resources are available.

Thank you for considering these suggestions that I believe would rebuild some of the trust that Georgians may have lost in our election process. If you have any questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. Thank you for what you do in service to our state.

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