New Bill Would Mean Open Season In Georgia For MAGA Voter Roll Challengers Like True The Vote

Poll workers wait for voters at a precinct during the presidential primary elections in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 12, 2024. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage / AFP) (Photo by ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images)
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

A new, Republican-backed Georgia election bill that has been sent to the governor’s desk has the potential to inject chaos into the upcoming election cycle if signed into law. 

The legislation would, among other things, revise the standard for challenging voter eligibility, which could increase the likelihood that election denial groups and conspiracy theorists will be able to successfully file mass, baseless voter eligibility complaints before the 2024 election. 

The bill could lead to voter suppression if it becomes law, voting rights groups warn, because it would lower the threshold for successfully challenging whether an individual voter is eligible to vote in the state. 

Senate Bill 189, a multi-part election bill, passed both chambers of the state legislature late last month and is still awaiting Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature. It’s unclear whether Kemp intends to sign the legislation, but it is supported by his secretary of state’s office. Press Secretary for Kemp’s office, Garrison Douglas, in an email to TPM, said: “Once the General Assembly adjourns, the Governor has 40 days to act on legislation.”

As it stands now, Georgia law does not outline examples of what is or isn’t a red flag for challenging a voter’s eligibility, but rather simply states that if there is probable cause for a voter challenge, that challenge can go forward. 

The new bill aims to define probable cause under state law to include voters who are deceased, voters who have once voted or were once registered to vote in a different jurisdiction, or a voter that is registered at a nonresidential address. The measure does, for its part, note that a voter appearing on the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address database is not sufficient reason to sustain a challenge against that voter. 

The concern is the language of the bill is both inconsistent and unclear, Cory Isaacson, the legal director for the ACLU of Georgia told TPM, meaning it will be easier than it has been to sustain a voter challenge in the state. In other words, it will make it easier for an election official to actually remove a person from the voter rolls.

The voter challenge components of SB 189 are backed by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office as part of an “attempt to create standards and a regular orderly process about voter challenges,” Mike Hassinger, spokesperson for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, told TPM. 

“Our position is that some guidance is better than no guidance,” he said.  

Georgia Democrats who voted against the legislation say the measure will do the opposite.  

“Before the law was broad and it was vague, and it was not a good law,” Georgia Democratic state Rep. Saira Draper told TPM, “but it allowed the boards of elections broad discretion to sustain challenges or to reject them.”

SB 189, however, removes that discretion, so that in specific circumstances the boards will have to sustain a voter challenge even if it’s not warranted, she said. 

“What the result will be is the sustaining of challenges that otherwise would not have been sustained,” she said.

Instead of mitigating mass meritless voter challenges, this legislation will, in some ways, actually make it easier for groups to carry out baseless challenges because it increases the likelihood of voter registration complaints ultimately being successful, according to Draper. 

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, the right-wing, Texas-based, Big Lie group, True the Vote, tried to challenge more than 364,000 voter registrations ahead of  Georgia’s runoff election. The fear now is that groups like True the Vote will have an easier time doing something similar ahead of 2024.

“Because the rules have been changed, now they basically give less discretion to the boards of elections to dismiss a challenge,” Draper said of the rule changes if the law passes. “And they give a more definition about the terms under which a challenge should be sustained.”

The idea behind mounting mass voter registration challenges is not necessarily to get ineligible voters off the voter rolls because there are systems in place that already take care of that. For example, Georgia’s participation in the voter roll maintenance program, ERIC, which has been demonized by the far-right, helps identify voters who may no longer be eligible to vote in the state in any given cycle. Rather, challenges are meant to “inject chaos into the process” and overburden already overburdened election workers, Draper said. 

The ACLU of Georgia has announced that it will sue if Kemp signs this measure into law. 

“There is an effort by groups like True the Vote to destabilize the voting system and inject chaos in the voting system by challenging eligibility of voters across the state to cast a ballot,” Isaacson of ACLU said. “We think the SB 189 could make it easier for entities like True the Vote to launch these mass challenges against voters.”

Essentially, it gives groups trying to raise doubts about voter rolls the ammo they need to file mass challenges. Isaacson points out that the language the bill uses to define probable cause is likely to “lead to a potentially dramatic lowering of the barrier” to keep voter challenges active. 

“By the plain language of the bill, someone could have voted in another state that they were living in 10 years ago,” she said. “And SB 189 is worded in a way that that decade old vote when someone lived in another state can be used to satisfy the standard needed to sustain a voter challenge.”

In other words, the legislation might make it easier to actually sustain a voter challenge, which means an election official would find that a challenge is warranted and find a person is then ineligible to vote. 

The law, voting activists argue, is also deliberately confusing and designed to call into question who is allowed to vote in Georgia much closer to an election day than federal law allows. For example, the legislation includes a provision that says any challenge filed 45 days out from an election would be paused and evaluated after the election. 

That provision appears to be in conflict with federal law which prohibits removing voters from the voter roll 90 days before a federal election, experts told TPM. 

“We think that was obviously intentional to try to have challenges that forced the county to move on challenges much closer to the election, which obviously creates a ton of chaos for voters and for elections officials,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, Interim Chief Executive Officer of voting rights organization developed by Stacey Abrams, Fair Fight, said.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: