Overview of Senate Bill 241 – Election Reform Omnibus

The March 8, 2021, press release below was issued by the Senate Republican Caucus. The release summarizes each section of SB 241. If you support the reforms in this bill, please contact your Georgia House of Representatives member and Georgia Senate member and tell them you support these reforms. The Georgia House passed a similar bill, and legislators must resolves the differences in the two bills and agree on a final version.

SB 241 passed out of the Senate today and will continue to the House. We’ve spent several hundred hours doing research and policy development around election integrity, addressing the lack of faith and integrity in our current election systems as expressed by many of our citizens. We encourage all citizens to practice their civic duty, and in return, it is our responsibility to ensure public confidence and trust in the system, ensuring our rights are protected. SB 241 codifies open and honest reformation to a multitude of areas regarding election oversight, voting processes, and transparency. They are as follows:

Section 1: This section establishes a telephone hotline and codifies which office should be responsible during the actual elections process. This allows the Secretary of State to focus on other areas by giving the responsibility to the Attorney General. Additionally, the hotline helps to address concerns and build trust in the election system since the host of the hotline (the Attorney General), differs from the office running the election (the Secretary of State).

Section 2: This section provides for the oversight of the State Election Board by the General Assembly, requiring a joint resolution before the Secretary of State can enter into any consent agreements. Even under emergency rule, we believe the posture should be that of a recommendation, thereby leaving official legislation in the hands of the General Assembly.

Section 3: This allows the local delegation to choose what corrective actions they can take for the removal of county election officials or entire boards of election for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, incompetence or inability to perform the duties of the office as they work together with the State Election Board.

Section 4: Currently, Georgia only voluntarily participates in a nongovernmental entity of multistate voter registration. This section codifies how Georgia is to use the nongovernmental entity of multistate voter registration, ensuring that Georgia must participate in using these systems.

Section 5: This section provides a clarification of a previous unclear law, and requires the use of mobile ballot casting units be used only to replace pre existing brick-and-mortar voting facilities, and ensure that such units do not supplement current precincts, but solely replace.

Section 6: Since 2005, when no excuse absentee voting was first addressed, there was little participation in mail-in voting. Recently, this participation has increased exponentially, adding increased burdens and costs to counties. Additionally, the highest rate of rejected ballots are from absentee mail-in voting. The section introduces a broad range of qualifications that are valid excuses for absentee mail-in voting including:

  1. Absent during advance voting and the day of the election
  2. Work interference
  3. Physical disability or being a caregiver of someone with a physical disability
  4. Those entitled to vote by absentee ballot under the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting act
  5. Incarceration prior to to being convicted
  6. Being 65 years of age or older
  7. Observance of a religious holiday
  8. Performing election official duties

As a result, there is a significant impact in the reduction of costs for each of the counties as we help to address the recent exponential increase in absentee ballots and the process of counting mail-in votes.

Section 7: The burden on counties increased in response to the increased number of absentee ballots. We need an objective measure to verify voter identities to alleviate some of the county burden. This section requires a form of voter identification to be included with absentee ballot applications. This requirement helps ensure integrity by verifying the identity of the applicant and ensures that only legal voters are able to vote. Additionally, the section prohibits the transmittal of absentee ballots without a prior request from the voter, addressing the issue of voters receiving live ballots in the mail, even when not requested.

Section 8: This section codifies the procedures taken by the registrar or ballot clerk when they receive the absentee ballot application for verification of the identity of an applicant with more objective measures, such as birthdate, drivers license number or last four digits of their social security number, moving away from relying on a subjective measure like signature verification.

Section 9: This section adds a requirement for the delineation of non-state/official agencies sending absentee ballot request forms in order to lessen the confusion experienced by citizens from receiving multiple absentee ballot request forms. Third parties can still send absentee ballot request forms, but they must include the requirements relating to font size, and contain a statement certifying they are not an official state entity to ensure electors know where the absentee ballot requests are coming from.

Section 10: This section provides clarification of absentee voting sites by changing “site” to “building” and defining “site” as having a building located on it.

Section 11: The previous signature verification requirements were subjective. This changes the signature verification requirements on absentee ballots to an objective verification requirement through requiring various quantitative identification measures, such as date of birth and driver’s license number or last four digits of social security number.

Section 12: There was uncertainty surrounding the total number of absentee ballots that have been sent, received, reported, etc. For ballot totals transparency, the absentee ballot totals must be reported by the counties. The only requirement for the counties is that they must provide a link to the Secretary of State on the county website and lead people to go there.

Section 13: Counties were overwhelmed with counting the number of mail-in absentee ballots at the time of the election. This section allows for protection of the voter, correction of the mistake on the ballot due to human error, and ensures that the vote is counted. Secondly, it aides the counties in the election process by providing an earlier opportunity to begin scanning mail-in absentee ballots.

Section 14: This section codifies specific tools for the Secretary of State that are not currently explicitly stated to ensure the integrity of an election. It allows for an audit of the information contained in the absentee ballot applications or envelopes at the discretion of the Secretary of State, as they would have access to election documents, in a sample of their choosing, to ensure a safe election.

Section 15: Within Section 21-2-402, there is no formal outline of the process for opening/closing polls, or extending poll hours. This section codifies the process of extending poll hours through a superior court judge.

Section 16: Requires that the ballots cast in each precinct be counted and tabulated, and that tabulation shall not cease until all are counted to ensure that every citizen’s vote is fairly accounted for. Additionally the section requires counties to post these totals publicly.

Section 17: Aligns code to reflect the changes made in Section 16 and eliminates the ability to cease voting at the discretion of the superintendent.

Section 18: Previous code provides no time specification for the completion of the computation of votes by the election superintendent. This section now gives the superintendent a timeline for when computation of the votes must be completed to hold these officers accountable.

Section 19: This section amends previous Code Section 21-2-493 to codify a direct start for when tabulation of ballots can begin, providing consistency across the counties in Georgia.

Section 20: There is confusion surrounding what constitutes the illegal act of ballot harvesting in Georgia. This section adds additional definitions to ballot harvesting and the penalty for doing so, and prevents ballot harvesting by prohibiting any third party from observing an elector fill out an absentee ballot.

Section 21: Our constitutional officers need great flexibility during times of emergency, but that power is not absolute. The General Assembly needs time to review the actions and be prepared for any future emergency situations to maintain the integrity of our elections. This section provides the legislative body the ability to preside over the emergency rules coming from the State Election Board and makes emergency rules of the State Election Board subject to the veto of a majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee or the House Judiciary Committee.