State Senate Panel Votes to Eliminate QR Codes from Paper Ballots

Dave Williams

Friday, January 26th, 2024

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Legislation that would do away with QR codes on paper ballots in Georgia cleared the state Senate Ethics Committee Thursday.

Under Senate Bill 189, only the text portions of paper ballots would be counted.

“We’re simply taking the ballot as it’s currently printed and eliminating the QR code,” said Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, the committee’s chairman and the bill’s chief sponsor.

The General Assembly passed legislation five years ago providing for a paper backup to electronic ballots, a move aimed at giving Georgians more confidence their votes are being recorded accurately. But some voters have complained that the QR codes that accompany paper ballots are confusing and impose a barrier on transparency.

Burns said implementing the legislation would require the state to invest about $15 million to buy 3,400 to 3,500 new scanners capable of reading text from paper ballots.

“I believe the investment would be worth the achievement,” he said.

Senate Republicans have been urging Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to expedite a planned software upgrade that would allow the state to get rid of QR codes. But Raffensperger has said there’s not enough time to roll out new software before this year’s elections.

Chip Trowbridge, chief technology officer for Boston-based Clear Ballot, a vendor of voting equipment, said his company could produce text-only paper ballots in six to seven months.

Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, suggested it might be wise to undertake a pilot project with the new technology before rolling it out statewide.

Burns said Raffensperger and the State Election Board might decide to do just that.

Sen. Derek Mallow, D-Savannah, said the cost of getting rid of the QR codes could overburden local elections agencies.

“Local taxpayers would have to foot the bill,” he said.

But Burns said the state likely would provide the funding to implement his bill.

Legislative Republicans have pushed eliminating QR codes as part of a broader agenda to assuage voter concerns over the integrity and accuracy of recent elections, particularly the 2020 presidential election that saw Democrat Joe Biden carry Georgia by a narrow margin over then-Republican President Donald Trump.

Democrats have countered that there’s been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia and have accused Republicans of looking for solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist. Two Democrats voted against Burns’ bill Thursday, which cleared the committee 8-2.

The legislation heads next to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether it reaches the full Senate for a vote.