Politics

Ga. Republicans Introduce Sweeping Election Bill Requiring New Voting Machines With Paper

Voting machines are tested at a polling site in Conyers, Ga.
Voting machines are tested at a polling site in Conyers, Ga.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Republican leaders in the Georgia House introduced a broad election bill Thursday that would require in-person voters cast ballots using electronic machines to mark paper ballots.

“The new system will guarantee accurate and secure elections in Georgia – so every voter has peace of mind in our electoral outcomes,” said Rep. Barry Fleming, the bill’s lead sponsor, in an editorial sent to media Friday.

The new machines would likely include touchscreen computers that print paper ballots meant to reflect the voter’s choices.

Georgia’s current, 16-year-old voting machines, do not produce a paper trail.

But Democrats favor replacing them with paper ballots marked by hand.

“There’s no way I could support a system that would be vulnerable to hacking,” said Democratic Rep. Renitta Shannon in response to the GOP bill.

Cybsersecurity experts warn there’s no guarantee voters will check the paper printout from a touchscreen computer matches their selections on the screen, exposing the election system to potential hacks or malfunctions.

They say hand-marked paper ballots are the most secure method for voting that’s widely available.

Election officials however, favor computers that mark paper ballots based on the voter’s selections, because they’re more similar to Georgia’s current system, and eliminate complications if hand-marked paper ballots are filled out properly.

The 40-page Republican bill, HB 316, deals with much more than voting technology.

A handful of provisions would weaken obstacles to voting, and if introduced independently, would likely win the support of Democrats.

For example, the bill says the location of a polling place cannot be changed less than 60 days prior to an election.

The bill also changes the process through which individuals are removed from the voter registration list if they don’t vote or respond to notifications from the Secretary of State’s office. The state would be required to send a notification to the individual at least 30 days before they’re removed.

That removal currently takes seven years, but under the Republican bill, it would take nine.

Rep. Shannon called those provisions “sweeteners” trying to get Democrats to vote for something that is really bad.

“It’s an attempt to get Democrats to feel like if you vote against this bill then you’re voting against these good things,” she said.

Rep. Fleming did not make himself available for an interview by deadline.