By Fredreka Schouten and Kelly Mena, CNN
The Republican-controlled Georgia state House on Tuesday night passed a sweeping elections bill that would hand new election policing powers to the state’s bureau of investigations and restrict nonprofit funding of elections.
The 40-page bill would give the Georgia Bureau of Investigations the power to initiate election fraud allegations, work that is currently overseen by state election officials. The investigations bureau also would have the authority to subpoena election records with signoff from the state attorney general.
It also would allow public inspection of original paper ballots and make other changes to election procedures in this key battleground state.
The sweeping measure, which now heads to the Georgia Senate, is part of a wave of bills moving through Republican-controlled state legislatures this year that are aimed at rewriting election procedures, following President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory. Former President Donald Trump and his allies have falsely attributed his loss in Georgia and other key states to election fraud.
Voting rights activists denounced the measures proposed in Georgia as erecting new hurdles to voting in a state that will host marquee races for governor and a US Senate seat this year. As currently written, the changes would take effect in July — ahead of November’s general election.
And voting rights groups warned that the involvement of state law-enforcement in policing election fraud could chill participation in elections.
“It makes people think there’s a chance they could be investigated,” said Xakota Espinoza of Fair Fight Action, a group established by Stacey Abrams, who is running for the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race.
“What is the need for this? They are pushing this bill to appease conspiracy theorists.”
During committee debate last week, GOP state Rep. Alan Powell said lawmakers are “trying to get to the point that everything is uniform — no matter what county it is.”
Doing so, he said, would “dispel any of the anxiety and the concerns that there’s something that’s been done wrong.”
Republicans in the Georgia House moved swiftly in recent days to advance the measure before the state legislature’s internal deadline Tuesday for bills to clear at least one chamber. The bill, which passed on a 98-73 vote, was the final piece of legislation considered on the deadline day and passed the House shortly before 11 p.m. ET.
Republican legislators in the Georgia House unveiled the sweeping proposal last week — just as the GOP-controlled legislature in neighboring Florida gave final approval to an elections security office sought by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Milton Kidd, who oversees elections in Douglas County, west of Atlanta, said the more direct involvement by the Georgia Bureau of Investigations could deter poll workers and voters from participating.
“Poll workers … have told me that they have moved away from the election space because they feel like these are actions that are going to come against them,” Kidd said at a recent hearing on the bill. “It’s going to have a chilling effect on voters participating in the process because, in most cases, the election issues that the secretary of state has found have been administrative issues. They’re issues that the current mechanism can actually deal with.”
Georgia and Florida both are among the states that enacted new voting restrictions last year.
Georgia’s sweeping 2021 election overhaul established new voter ID requirements to cast ballots by mail, restricted the use of ballot drop boxes and allowed state takeovers of local election boards.
During a news conference Tuesday morning, Nichola Hines, president of the League of Women Voters of Atlanta-Fulton County, the proposal would complicate matters for election workers and voters already scrambling to navigate the changes brought by Georgia’s 2021 election law and recent redistricting.
“Adding another round of voting changes at this late date,” she said, “is a recipe for disaster and will likely cause confusion and suppress the votes of voters of both parties.”
The new proposals that Georgia lawmakers are weighing focus more on election administration than on ballot access.
One proposal, for instance, establishes elaborate chain-of-custody procedures for handling absentee ballots.
Another would prevent nonprofits from providing any funding directly to local election administrators. Instead, those groups first would have to seek approval from the State Elections Board, which would then distribute the grants to prevent funding inequities across the state.
Republican officials have taken aim at donations funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to local election offices during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Conservatives say the grants helped make it easier to vote in Democratic areas — giving the party an unfair advantage.
The grant administrators have denied any partisan bias in distributing the money, which topped $340 million.
Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in Georgia — the first for a Democrat in the state in nearly three decades — was certified after three counts of ballots. And judges have tossed out several lawsuits claiming fraud.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating what actions Trump or his allies may taken in their efforts to overturn Biden’s victory. The probe began last year following Trump’s call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pushed the Republican to “find” the votes to overturn the election results.
This headline and story have been updated to reflect House passage of the bill.
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CNN’s Dan Berman contributed to this story.