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Georgia passes bill giving state law enforcement agency power to investigate elections

By Kelly Mena, CNN

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill on their final day of session that would give new election policing powers to the state’s bureau of investigation.

Georgia is the second state after Florida to pass an election police force bill this year as Republicans continue to falsely claim the 2020 election was rife with voter fraud.

Under SB 441, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would be able to launch a probe without being called in by another law enforcement agency. The bill also gives the bureau the authority to subpoena election records with signoff from the state’s attorney general. Currently, state election officials investigate fraud allegations.

The overall bill mostly deals with criminal data processing, an issue which had bipartisan support. Republican state Rep. James Burchett tacked on the GBI provision to the bill in the final hours of the session, prompting outcries from Democratic supporters of the original bill.

“The rest of this … good bill. The original jurisdiction piece for GBI — heartburn for Democrats and a lot of people in the room,” said state Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat.

Burchett argued that the GBI provision was an appropriate addition to the bill because it deals with criminal investigations.

“What we’re looking for is GBI to investigate conspiracy to commit election fraud, if it is necessary and giving them the investigatory discretion to do so. I think these are germane in subject matter and that’s why this bill was picked,” said Burchett in explaining the last-minute addition to the bill in a key committee meeting on Monday.

The election police force is one of the few provisions of a much larger omnibus election bill that Republicans had hoped to pass this session.

House Republicans had first started with a 40-page bill that last week was gutted into a two-page bill after local election officials urged lawmakers to reconsider making changes to Georgia’s elections procedures just months before November’s midterm elections.

Early on Monday morning, House Republicans revived the bill again only to see it not make it to the state Senate floor after outgoing Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, ruled the legislation out of order and the majority of senators backed his decision.

The original legislation included provisions for elaborate chain-of-custody procedures, public inspection of original paper ballots and limits on third-party donations for election administration, among other changes.

This marks the second year in a row that Republicans who control the Georgia legislature have proposed sweeping changes to the state’s election code following President Joe Biden’s narrow 2020 victory.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his approval. He has 40 days to sign the legislation or veto it.

Voting rights advocates are calling on Kemp — who is facing a primary challenge from former US Sen. David Perdue, who is backed by former President Donald Trump — to veto the legislation, which they say will intimidate voters.

“Any Georgia leader who claims to care about protecting our democracy — and ensuring that all Georgia voters can cast their votes free from intimidation — must stand with election workers and voting rights advocates by calling on Kemp to veto this legislation,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid of Fair Fight Action, a group established by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.

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