Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
January 31, 2024
The Georgia House overwhelmingly passed legislation on Wednesday that would require ballots in future elections to have a visible watermark security feature.
On Wednesday, House Bill 976 was passed 167-1, advancing an enhanced security measure to the Senate that has the support of Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. According to state officials, if approved by the Legislature, the new watermark symbol would likely appear on millions of ballots printed for the November general election.
Rep. Steve Tarvin, a Chickamauga Republican, said the watermark is another step toward improving voter confidence after many Georgians questioned the validity of the gubernatorial and presidential elections in recent years. State and local election offices will be able to take advantage of this enhanced feature at a minimal cost, according to bill sponsor Valdosta GOP Rep. John LaHood.
“It’s a shame we have to do this, but I thank (LaHood) for bringing this bill because it restores confidence when our people vote,” Tarvin said.
During a House subcommittee hearing on Jan. 23, Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state, said it’s a good decision to allow voters to verify the authenticity of their ballots with watermarks that are easy to see. Under the proposed law, Georgia’s elections would no longer rely on special laser wands that are used to identify the security measure embedded in paper ballots.
The new watermarking equipment would cost the state about $110,000 for a one-time purchase, according to state election officials.
Sterling said the 13-cent price per ballot set by contract is unlikely to change.
“In the real world application, we don’t see any real downside to doing this,” he said last week. “It’s a lot of upside for a very low cost and a lot of bang for the buck.”.
LaHood’s House committee on Wednesday also advanced legislation that would require every ballot digital image to be uploaded to a statewide database available to the public.
The public can currently request ballot images from local election offices under a rule put in place as part of a 2021 election law overhaul.
“This bill requires that the (secretary of state’s) pilot program that was put into law previously becomes a permanent program that provides digital ballot scans online for citizens to view,” LaHood said at Wednesday’s House Governmental Affairs Committee.
The mechanisms of voting are on the minds of Georgia’s GOP lawmakers during the legislative session leading up to election season. On Tuesday, a Georgia Senate Ethics Committee passed Senate Bill 189, which calls for replacing the QR code that tabulates votes on paper ballots with readable text or a bubble style mark similar to what is currently used for absentee and provisional ballots.
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