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Georgia bill gives state Bureau of Investigations power to investigate allegations of voter fraud

The Georgia Legislature on Monday night passed a bill giving the state bureau of investigations more powers over elections.

The bill, SB 441, authorizes the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to launch investigations into allegations of election fraud that could put the results of an election in doubt. The agency would also have subpoena power over election-related documents. 

Currently, the GBI has to be asked by another agency to investigate allegations of election law violations. The agency would supplement the ability that state election officials have to investigate election fraud allegations. 

Last month, Florida lawmakers passed a bill creating a new state office dedicated to investigating alleged election-related crimes.

Georgia lawmakers lifted the provision to look into allegations of voter fraud from other election-related bills that did not receive approval from both chambers. The original version of the bill SB 441 focused largely on criminal data processing, and previously received bipartisan support before the GBI material was added.

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Rifle carrying supporters of the second amendment stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building on January 17, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.  Megan Varner / Getty Images

"This is an intimidation tactic. It will not only be used against your voters, but could also be used against organizations and those county election board officials or their workers," Democratic state Representative Jasmine Clark said about the GBI provision. "They already have a hard enough time getting poll workers and now you want to sic the GBI on them?"

Republicans who backed adding the measure said that it will streamline investigations, by allowing the GBI to launch its own probes rather than having to wait for an agency to ask for their help. They said it would be used for issues like conspiracy to commit election fraud at a large level.

"The GBI can do exactly what they already have the ability to do except they don't have to be asked or called in to do the investigation, " said Republican state Representative James Burchett. "I don't see why we don't want the highest law enforcement agency in the state of Georgia that is the most sophisticated and capable law enforcement agency in the state to do these investigations when it's that time."

The legislature considered other election-administration bills, but several election officials spoke out against some of those measures, saying they would be too burdensome on workers. Other measures from previous bills that were not in SB 441 included public inspection of paper ballots and limits on third party donations. 

The budget approved by lawmakers allocates nearly $580,000 for GBI employees to investigate election fraud. The GBI has helped with election investigations recently, including conducting a signature audit in Cobb County following the 2020 presidential election that "found 'no fraudulent absentee ballots' with a 99% confidence threshold."

Last year, Georgia Republicans passed a law that made sweeping changes to the state's election laws.

Voting rights advocates have been opposed to giving GBI more authority over election investigations and are calling on Republican Governor Brian Kemp to veto the legislation.

"SB 441 would undermine our democracy by giving new sweeping powers for the Georgia Bureau of Investigations that effectively green light the intimidation of both voters and election officials," Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Fair Fight Action, a group founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, said in a statement. "As a result, this legislation would further burden the process of running our elections and embolden conspiracy theorists as well as  threaten our elections workers."

Kemp has 40 days to determine whether to sign the bill or veto it. Kemp is facing a primary challenge on May 24 against former Senator David Perdue, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump

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