ATLANTA - Georgia voters could be casting their ballots on ATM-like computer touch screens by the 2004 presidential election under legislation approved overwhelmingly by the House on Monday.
The bill, which passed 165-1, would create a commission to examine various electronic voting systems and recommend by the end of this year a system that could be in place statewide by 2004.
The panel's suggestions would be based on a pilot project the bill would authorize Secretary of State Cathy Cox to pursue this fall experimenting with various types of electronic equipment in a handful of municipal elections.
The measure stems from the razor-thin margin between the presidential candidates in November's voting in Florida.
"The fact that concerns were highlighted in Florida was simply happenstance," said Rep. Tom Shanahan, D-Calhoun, who carried the bill for Ms. Cox in the House. "It could just as easily have been the state of Georgia or any other state in the nation."
The bill also attempts to shorten lines at polling places by shifting nonpartisan elections from November to July and authorizing the state board governing referendums on constitutional amendments to prepare a short heading at the top of each amendment on the ballot explaining its purpose.
It also would allow the secretary of state to purge the voter lists of dead people and of felons convicted of crimes of "moral turpitude."
Lawmakers approved amendments requiring the commission to be made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats and calling on the panel to hold three public hearings outside of the Atlanta area.
But the House balked at an attempt to resurrect legislation making it easier for minor-party candidates to get on a ballot, rejecting an amendment proposed by Rep. Brian Joyce 75-90.
Rep. Anne Mueller, R-Savannah, said the state needs safeguards on ballot access to prevent candidates who aren't serious from getting on a ballot.
"We're just opening up the floodgates for nuts," she said.
The House Governmental Affairs Committee removed a provision allowing early voting in Georgia for as many as 15 days before elections. Mr. Shanahan said Ms. Cox agreed to the change so the bill wouldn't be sidetracked by a concept that has drawn significant opposition when introduced in past legislative sessions.
Because of the change, the bill must go back to the Senate before it can gain final approval.
"We're just opening up the floodgates for nuts."- Rep. Anne Mueller, R-Savannah, on a provision that would have made it easier for minor-party candidates to get on ballots