The Georgia state legislature on Wednesday passed an elections bill that would make it a felony for local election offices to accept private funds.
Violations of SB 222, which is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to sign, would result in a felony punished by at least one year in prison and a fine of at least $10,000.
The bill expands the limitations set by the state’s 2021 voting law, which prevented nonprofits from providing any funding directly to local election officials.
Republicans have pushed for the expansion because they argue outside groups have the ability to funnel money into a county for a specific party. Republican officials had previously taken aim at donations funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan to local election offices during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Conservatives say the grants helped make it easier to vote in Democratic areas – giving the party an unfair advantage.
GOP state senators spoke on the floor on Wednesday before final passage and claimed the bill is “fair for everybody.”
“All Senate bill 222 does, but what it does very well, is make sure that any outside foundation dollars that come to the state is spread evenly across the state so there’s equal access to all people and that outside entities can’t privately fund election outcomes in one place versus another,” state Sen. Ed Setzler said.
But critics have said the bill will adversely affect the ability of elections offices to administer elections and makes the process of voting more difficult with less resources, especially in larger counties.
All Voting is Local’s Georgia state director Kristin Nabers said SB 222 is “rooted in Big Lie conspiracy theories.”
“Instead of taking advantage of every opportunity to make Georgia’s elections the most well-run in the country, our legislators are choosing to leave money on the table while weakening the very nonpartisan institutions that protect Georgians’ right to vote,” Nabers said in a statement.
Stephanie Ali, policy director of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, said the new bill will create limitations on what’s available for offices to carry out elections and “disapportionately impact Georgians who live in counties with more people.”
“We’re going to see county election offices have to make some really difficult choices on what to spend their limited money on,” Ali said. “They’re going to have to potentially hire fewer poll workers which means all kinds of negative impacts for our voters.”
The bill was written after DeKalb County accepted a $2 million grant from the US Alliance for Election Excellence, which includes the Zuckerberg-funded Center for Tech and Civic Life. Some Republicans in the state claimed the county had violated the law.
The original bill would have required DeKalb County to pay back the money it received through the grant, but the House Rules Committee took out that on Monday.