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VERIFY: Yes, Georgia's new voting law allows for public disclosure of scanned ballot images

The Verify team confirmed the provisions do not jeopardize the secret ballot

ATLANTA — Debate around Georgia's voting process is not going anywhere, and a viewer reached out to the 11Alive Verify team verify asking if Georgia's new election law allows for the release of ballot images to the public?

THE QUESTION

"I read that a provision in the new voting law allows for public disclosure of scanned ballot images. Is that true and does that end the secret ballot?"

THE ANSWER

Yes, SB 202 contains provisions which allow for scanned ballots to be public record and also allows for the creation of a pilot program for "the posting of digital images of the scanned paper ballots."

WHAT WE FOUND

The relevant provisions of SB 202 which address the question were added to the bill in the Georgia House of Representatives after its passage in the Georgia Senate. 

According to a March 17 recording of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, provisions were added to allow for the disclosure of scanned ballot images to the public. 

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Republican lawmaker Rep. Barry Fleming, committee chair, indicated his support for the idea, which was originally put forth in HB 659, a bill sponsored by Rep. Shea Roberts (D). 

In that bill, Roberts proposed ballot images be made public with the goal of transparency.

"My goal was to go into session and try and work across the aisle to pass legislation that would actually restore public confidence, and I think transparency is the best way to do that," Roberts said. "The purpose of [HB 659] was so everyone, parties, candidates, the public, if they wanted to, they could count [the ballots]."

Her bill had bipartisan support and part of her idea was rolled into SB 202. 

"We've asked the secretary of state to create a pilot program to see how this would work and try it out in some places," Fleming said during the March 17 meeting. "Secondly, we have made available now those ballot images to an open records request. Before it took the judge to do that, but going forward, it would be available under an open records request towards the idea of having those online where anybody could use them and count them."

As a result, SB 202 indicates "scanned ballot images created by a voting system authorized by chapter 2 of title 21 2506 shall be public records subject to disclosure under this article" as well as instructions the secretary of state's office to set up "a pilot program for the posting of digital images of the scanned paper ballots."

Georgia's Secretary of State's office also confirmed to the Verify team they're indeed working on the pilot program per the law.

In summary, we can verify it's true a provision of SB 202 allows for public disclosure of scanned ballot images. But the suggestion that process would end the secret ballot is false. 

Georgia's constitution requires "elections by the people shall be by secret ballot," and Rep. Roberts confirmed that is still the case. 

"There is nothing identifying on the ballot images once it's printed out of the ballot marking device. There's nothing identifying absentee ballots once they're removed from the envelope that has been signed. There is no identifying information on the ballot, so there is no reason not to produce these images," Roberts said.