Georgia lawmakers back broad election changes, including one that could benefit third-party presidential contenders

Republican-backed legislation headed to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk would establish new rules for challenging voters’ eligibility and make it easier to qualify for the presidential ballot – changes that could have consequences in this fall’s elections in a closely watched battleground state.

Late last week – just before wrapping up their legislative session – state lawmakers approved a broad elections measure that would allow “any political party or political body” that has obtained ballot access in at least 20 states or territories to qualify for Georgia’s presidential ballot.

That could benefit third-party or independent presidential candidates in a state that Joe Biden narrowly carried over Donald Trump in 2020. A super PAC backing independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in February that it had gathered enough signatures in Georgia for Kennedy to make the ballot. Kennedy’s campaign website, however, indicates that it still seeking signatures.

A Kennedy campaign spokesperson did not respond to CNN’s request for comment Monday.

Last week, Kennedy, who is seeking to make the ballot in all 50 states, named California tech lawyer Nicole Shanahan as his running mate. Philosopher Cornel West is also running for president as an independent. Kennedy’s candidacy, in particular, has raised alarms among some Democrats, who view him as a potential spoiler candidate who could help Trump topple Biden in November.

Currently, independent or third-party candidates must collect at least 7,500 signatures from registered Georgia voters to qualify for the ballot in the state.

Both chambers of the Georgia legislature are controlled by Republicans, as is the governor’s mansion.

Kemp spokesman Garrison Douglas did not indicate whether the governor intended to sign the legislation but said in an email Monday that all bills passed by the legislature “undergo a thorough review process.” The governor has 40 days from the end of the legislative session, which was early Friday, to sign or veto bills or allow them to become law without his signature.

A separate provision of the election legislation would broaden what constitutes “probable cause” needed to uphold challenges to voter registrations. It would include evidence that a voter has died, obtained a homestead exemption on their taxes in a different jurisdiction or registered to vote at a nonresidential address.

Since the 2020 election triggered widespread false claims of voter fraud in Georgia, individual activists in the state have lodged tens of thousands of voter eligibility challenges. A 2021 Georgia law stipulated that a single voter could bring an unlimited number of challenges, and election officials in some large counties have been inundated with demands to remove voters from the rolls.

Proponents of the change say they want to prevent voter fraud.

“We want to increase participation, and to do that we need to increase the confidence of our voters,” Republican state Rep. John LaHood said during the debate, according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Voting rights groups have objected to several provisions in the legislation, including the rules regarding voter challenges. The ACLU of Georgia has threatened to sue if Kemp signs it.

CNN’s Aaron Pellish contributed to this report.

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