The November 2020 election shined a glaring spotlight on the need for election reform because so many discrepancies occurred in numerous states, counties and cities. Georgia is leading the election reform charge with its passage of the 98-page “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” According to Georgia governor Brian Kemp, the legislation would promote greater election security, making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
Although most Americans agree there is a great need for heightened election integrity, legislation to address the problem has generated political controversy. Understanding the Georgia bill’s key components may illuminate the potential benefits to all Americans — and offer a model to states such as California for the future.
• Voter identification requirements on absentee ballots will be enacted. Rather than relying on untrained election volunteers to correctly compare voter signatures, this bill requires a driver license, state identification, or the last four digits of one’s Social Security number to establish voter identity. Proponents argue that basic identification is often required at various venues, such as bars and airports, and could help avoid illicit voting actions. It could increase access to absentee ballots, possibly improving voter turnout with more convenient voting. Conversely, measure opponents claim this is governmental overreach which would unfairly target minority voters, potentially suppressing voter turnout.
• Limits the use of ballot drop boxes and limits the time for voters to request absentee ballots. Proponents believe that 11 weeks is adequate time to complete the ballot request before election deadlines. Fewer drop boxes will be available and only during voting hours. They will be “under constant surveillance” when open. Opponents see the ballot deadline and the limited number of drop boxes as too restrictive and believe they would reduce voter participation.
• Provision expands early in-person voting and bars officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms. Proponents believe that massive, unsolicited mailouts of vote-by-mail ballot requests virtually guarantee fraudulent activity by hindering proper vote-tracking, reconciling of addresses and status, and other precautions. Opponents fear that by limiting unsolicited absentee ballot request forms, many may not get around to voting on their own, which could limit participation and suppress voting activity.
• Provision makes it a misdemeanor to provide food, water or other incentives to voters waiting in line. Advocates say these activities constitute incentives, intimidation or other ways of exerting influence over voters. Those who oppose the provision believe it is inhumane to withhold provision to those who may be in need. However, it has been noted that adequate water supplies are widely available near most voting sites, and voters could bring their own food if a long wait to vote is anticipated.
• Hotlines will be established. Hotlines would be available to report illegal election activities or investigate evidence of voter suppression. This is a sensible provision, if not abused.
• Access to voter databases will be increased. This access would help keep records updated, identifying voters who have relocated, cast ballots illegally, voted in multiple states, or died.
• Private donations will be disseminated by county. This provision would eliminate direct contributions to local election superintendents. By limiting donations and financial support and improving oversight, donor influence over elections would be greatly reduced. For example, Mark Zuckerberg’s $400 million donation to local election authorities in key swing state counties nationally would no longer be an issue. Opponents of this stipulation prefer no government involvement in this regard.
• Duplication of defective or damaged ballots will be overseen by a bipartisan committee of more highly scrutinized and trained volunteers than previously deemed acceptable.
• Election runoffs would be shortened from nine weeks to four weeks.
• Vote tallying cannot be interrupted for any reason other than a natural disaster. Provision supporters believe that this would provide less opportunity to infuse illegal votes or tampering. Opponents feel this restriction is unnecessary and that vote counters may need to take a break.
• More specific training will be required for poll watchers observing the election. Supporters argue that particular groups should not enjoy favored access over others. This could eliminate any obstruction of proper observation. Opponents believe the time and expense required for such training would be cost-prohibitive and unnecessary.
•.The state legislature will have greater control over election administration. Ordinarily, county boards of election are responsible for ballot disqualification and results certification. Under the new law, the state board of elections will be empowered to replace poorly performing county boards with an administrator chosen at the state level. The state legislature would also gain greater control over the state board by replacing the Secretary of State as chair of the board. Under the new law, the legislature appoints a majority of the board. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, this enables “state takeovers of local election offices; including decisions as to which ballots should be disqualified. Those who oppose this change suggest that this could change the outcome of future elections, especially if they are hotly contested as in 2020.” An undesired authority shift could result in unnecessary political controversy. While this bill has stirred some opposition, it has also led Americans to have conversations regarding the security of the American voting process. As cracks have appeared in election integrity, legislation may be the fix needed to ensure that all legal votes are counted and every vote would truly count to fortify a government built for the people and by the people.