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Georgia House votes to require watermarks on election ballots

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2021 file photo, Fulton County, Georgia, elections workers process absentee ballots for a U.S. Senate runoff election in Atlanta. Georgia's state House voted on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, to require watermarks on ballots, with the bill moving on to the state Senate for more debate. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
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FR171789
FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2021 file photo, Fulton County, Georgia, elections workers process absentee ballots for a U.S. Senate runoff election in Atlanta. Georgia's state House voted on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, to require watermarks on ballots, with the bill moving on to the state Senate for more debate. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

Georgia voters could see a watermark on their ballot beginning in November, a move Republican supporters said would assure citizens that their ballots are authentic.

The House on Wednesday voted 167-1 for House Bill 976, sending it to the Senate for more debate.

“It will bring more confidence from our people who vote, and it’s something we need to restore.” said Rep. Steve Tarvin, a Chickamauga Republican.

Georgia ballots are already printed on special security paper, under a law passed in 2021 after Georgia's disputed 2020 presidential election. But a laser wand is required to detect the paper. And some Trump supporters continue to pursue claims that ballots in 2020 were forged, especially in Fulton County, despite investigators repeatedly failing to find any.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger supports the measure, with his chief operating officer, Gabe Sterling, telling a House committee earlier this month that a machine to stamp watermarks on the ballot would cost the state about $100,000, and not increase the current cost to counties of 13 cents per ballot.

“This is a low-cost, high-value measure,” said House Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman John LaHood, a Valdosta Republican.

Sterling said the secretary of state's office believes the measure is more important for absentee ballots sent through the mail, saying ballots produced in polling places never leave the supervision of poll workers.

The bill would take effect July 1. Counties could use up un-watermarked ballot paper now on hand in March and May elections, Sterling said.

Lawmakers are also considering other election measures. One would require that bar codes be removed from ballots produced by Georgia's electronic voting system. Opponents say voters can’t be sure the computer codes match the choices printed on their ballots. Raffensperger has said he supports a move to scan “human readable text,” the names printed on ballots, to count votes. But he has said it’s impossible to make such a change before the November presidential election.

Another measure would require two after-election audits of ballots to make sure results matched what machines counted. A third measure would make permanent a program requiring scans of ballots be released for public inspection.