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Measure may ease voting from afar
Hamiltons bill clears House
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Forsyth County News

Mark Hamilton said Georgia’s soldiers overseas can get bullets, so they should just as easily get ballots.

In House Bill 665, the District 23 state representative from Cumming offers an alternative to the current ballot mailing system, one that could quicken the process by allowing them to vote electronically.

“We want to honor our men and women overseas,” said Hamilton, R-Cumming. “We had virtually no opposition in any of the committee meetings that we have ... and I’m very happy that it passed 165 to 1.”

The bill, which heads to the state Senate for approval, tasks Georgia’s secretary of state with developing a pilot program.

Hamilton introduced the measure last year, though there wasn’t enough time to get it through the legislative process.

He said it’s possible, though unlikely, to implement the program before the election in November.

While Forsyth County had about 100 military ballots during the 2008 general election, Hamilton said the bill could affect an estimated 200,000 Georgia voters. About 38,000 armed forces members could benefit from the bill, as well as about 57,000 of their family members and 105,000 non-military residents living abroad.

Gary J. Smith, chairman of the local elections board, came to Hamilton with the idea last year.

Smith was at the state House Wednesday morning to see the bill pass.

“It’s just a very, very good bill,” he said. “I think it’s good for everybody and I’m proud to have been a small part of it.”

Smith serves as a board member of Operation Bravo, a national nonprofit organization seeking to offer electronic voting alternatives for all U.S. citizens serving in any capacity overseas.

The process of mailing ballots is too time consuming, Smith said.

“It is us having to receive a request for an absentee ballot, then us sending the ballot overseas, getting the ballot received by the person, them having to vote and send it back,” Smith said.

“The amount of time it takes to do that is incredible. We’re talking anywhere from 10 days to several weeks at the very best.”

If approved, the measure could ultimately hinge on state funding, which is no certainty given Georgia’s current budget woes.

Hamilton said it’s possible there could be some federal funding for states rolling out similar initiatives, but private organizations like Operation Bravo, the Ford Foundation and Pew Center on the States could also lend a hand.

“[But] you can only talk to these organizations to a certain point, because without legislation and the ability to do it, you can only go so far,” Hamilton said.  

Once the pilot program is complete, the secretary of state must file a report within 90 days. Based on the report, the state legislature could pass additional measures to make it permanent.