Election bills have issues, local officials say

Taylor Cooper, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·5 min read

Mar. 10—Local elections personnel have doubts about some of the proposed changes to election law currently under consideration in the Georgia General Assembly.

During a Tuesday meeting of the Glynn County Board of Elections, Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell explained some of his reservations about multiple state House and Senate Bills dealing with election law.

One Georgia House bill proposing changes to voting law would outlaw the use of drop boxes as they were used in the 2020 election cycle, he said. Among them is a limit on the use of absentee ballot drop boxes.

Voters would only be able to drop off absentee ballots in boxes placed inside certain buildings, "which is disappointing for me because I think what we had worked really well," Channell said. "If you like drop boxes, contact your legislator."

Other proposed absentee ballot overhauls might actually make it harder to verify their authenticity, Christina Redden, assistant supervisor of elections and registration, explained.

Bills proposed in both the state House and Senate would add the requirement that voters include their driver's license or state ID number or some other accepted identification, but removed a signature matching stipulation in current law.

"I have a bad problem with that," Channell said. "I don't mind them including the driver's license. I don't mind them including the social security number, but signature verification has to be a part of it."

There are many situations where family members or friends might have access to a voter's social security and driver's license number, Redden added.

"Think about how it can spin out from there if you don't have their signature," Redden said.

Most of the five-member board concurred with their assessments.

Members of Glynn County's delegation to the General Assembly are knee-deep in election legislation. In an interview last week, Rep. Buddy DeLoach, R-Townsend, serves on a special House committee on election integrity and is a sponsor of some election bills. Sen. Sheila McNeill, R-Brunswick, is a sponsor of one Senate bill dealing with absentee ballots.

Senate Bill 71 would reform and clean up the elections process by offering "clear and concise requirements for those seeking to request an absentee ballot," McNeill explained last week.

"Voting is our most sacred civic duty," she said. "My number one priority is to ensure that every Georgian has the right to vote in a safe and secure manner. Voter integrity must be protected so that every Georgian may cast a legal vote."

DeLoach said he's spent over 100 hours in committee hearings on election reform. He said the removal of signature verification from state law was a reaction to criticism from election workers.

"The signature matching turned out to be a real problem, and there was a lot of dissension in elections offices about that," DeLoach said.

He also said requiring drop boxes to be moved inside secure buildings was meant to improve election security.

The Glynn County Democratic Party strongly opposed nearly all measures proposed in the state legislature, seeing it as an attempt by Republican lawmakers to limit access to the polls.

"The better the participation, the better the results for our democracy," said Julie Jordan, chairwoman of the Glynn County Democrats. "When we turned out in larger numbers for the presidency and the Senate, the Republicans want to change the rules ... I think we should want people to vote no matter how they vote. I think it's a sacred right and we should value that."

In other business, the board heard an update on turnout in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax 2021 referendum.

As of Tuesday morning, 2,959 total votes had been cast in person — 478 in the Office Park Building in downtown Brunswick, 571 at the Ballard Community Building off Old Jesup Road and 1,900 at the early voting location in Glynn County Fire Station No. 2 on St. Simons Island.

Ballots cast on St. Simons Island accounted for 64.2 percent of all in-person early votes.

"The islands are the people that are really voting in this election so far," said Channell.

About 172 mail-in ballots had been accepted as of Tuesday morning, said Christina Redden, the assistant supervisor of elections and registration. She estimated that ballots from the county's Second District, which encompasses St. Simons, Jekyll and Sea islands, outnumbers those from mainland districts as much as three to one.

Glynn County commissioners propose implementing a 1 percent sales tax for three years, which would generate a total of $68.5 million split among the county, city of Brunswick, Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission and Jekyll Island Authority for infrastructure and capital projects.

Find this story on thebrunswicknews.com to see the full list of projects.

A second referendum on the ballot asks voters to declare a SPLOST IV and V project undertaken by the city of Brunswick, the Oglethorpe Conference Center, infeasible.

Registered voters can cast a ballot at three locations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday at the Office Park Building at 1815 Gloucester St. in Brunswick; the Ballard Community Building at 30 Nimitz Drive; and on St. Simons Island at Glynn County Fire Station No. 2, 1929 Demere Road.

All polling precincts will open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 16. Voters can check their registration status or find their polling place by visiting glynncounty.org/elections. The elections office can be reached at 912-554-7060.

The board also heard an update on an initiative to deliver ballots to nursing homes in emergencies.

Redden said the original plan was to implement new rules allowing hand-delivery of ballots by election workers to nursing homes — keeping the chain of custody intact — only during a state of emergency as declared by higher government authorities.

That won't be possible, however, as the law does not allow ballots to be delivered on an emergency basis. Either the board has to always allow delivery of ballots to nursing homes or abandon the idea, she said.

The county's attorneys are still working on the issue and will present a draft ordinance when they're prepared, she said.