ATLANTA (AP) — The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill that would make several changes to Georgia election law, including giving county election officials discretion over the number of voting machines they'll need for certain elections.
The bill, backed by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, passed along partisan lines with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. It was approved by a vote of 35-19 and will next go to the state House for more debate.
Elections in Georgia have been under a microscope in recent years, with voting rights advocates alleging myriad problems, including hourslong lines in some voting locations, which they say affects people who are unwilling or unable to wait.
The chief sponsor of Senate Bill 463, Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Macon, said the legislation has the "aim of ensuring that we in Georgia have smooth elections in this next election cycle."
For November general elections in even-numbered years, precincts would be required to have one voting machine for every 250 registered voters, which is what's required for all elections under current law. The new legislation would allow county election officials to provide more or fewer machines for any other election, including primaries or runoffs, based on expected turnout and other relevant factors.
If people in a precinct with more than 2,000 registered voters have to wait in line for more than an hour before checking in to vote, officials would have to make changes before the next election, the legislation says. Officials would have to reduce the size of the precinct or provide additional voting equipment or poll workers.
The bill also syncs the voter registration deadlines for state and federal primary runoffs, allows voters to include a copy of their state ID to verify an absentee ballot and removes language related to Georgia's old voting system that is no longer in use from state code.
Several Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill.
Democratic Sen. Jen Jordan raised questions about language in the bill that allows for precincts to be split if there are long wait times. Jordan questioned whether the bill would allow for a precinct to be split between the state's presidential primary on March 24 and general election in November, possibly causing confusion for voters midcycle.
"Do you have any concerns about trying to change the rules of the game in the middle of an election cycle when we have so much litigation that is currently pending with respect to the state's handling of previous elections?" Jordan asked Kennedy.
Kennedy responded that he was not worried because the changes in the bill would benefit voters.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Henson protested that the bill was engrossed, and Democrats were not allowed to offer amendments on the floor.
"I didn't bring crazy amendments. I brought amendments to make this bill better," Henson said.
The bill passed on the 28th legislative day of the year, known as Crossover Day. It's a midsession deadline by which bills must generally pass out of one chamber or the other to remain alive for the year.