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Senate Committee Approves State Election Board Authority to Investigate Georgia Secretary of State

Stephen Fowler
GPB News

Georgia’s Secretary of State could find himself under investigation by the State Board of Elections under the terms of legislation proposed in the Georgia Senate.

Senate Bill 358 would give the Board of Elections the power to investigate both the Secretary of State and local elections officials, and how those officials conduct elections. It also gives the Board the power to hire its own investigators instead of relying on the Secretary of State’s office to conduct investigations.

Senator Max Burns, a Republican from Sylvania, chairs the Senate Ethics Committee. He is also a sponsor of the bill. He said that the bill was driven, at least in part, by a debate among Board of Elections members last year.

“Last year, in the December meeting of the state election board, there was some discussion about whether or not the board had responsibility and oversight of the Secretary of State and the Office of the Secretary of State and their elections division.,” Burns said. “They split on that 2-2.”

Burns told his colleagues on the Senate Ethics Committee that the legislation was requested by members of the Board of Elections.

“We received communication from a member of the election board and then the Chair of the state Election Board,” he said. “So the chair of of the state election board in a letter to the Honorable Jon Burns, Speaker of the House and the Honorable Burt Jones, Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, requested that the legislation clarify the responsibility of the state election board and and its role in oversight.”

The bill would also remove the Secretary of State from the State Elections Board.

The Secretary of State’s office has questioned whether the bill is constitutional, but a lawyer for the Ethics Committee says the bill should pass constitutional muster.

SB 358 passed the Ethics Committee and could be voted on by the full Senate in the coming weeks.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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