In the 2020 presidential election, nearly half of Clarke County voters voted by mail, according to the US Elections Project. This includes ballots cast by early voting in person, mailed or left in drop boxes across the county.
After the election, the Republican-led state legislature enacted SB 202 in early 2021, reducing the county’s six drop boxes to one. Additionally, in early December 2021, State Senator Butch Miller, acting president of the Georgia Senate and candidate for lieutenant governor, introduced a bill that would eliminate ballot boxes entirely for the state of Georgia.
Miller says this bill would protect elections, calling these drop boxes a “weak link” in election integrity and echoing sentiments of false allegations of voter fraud that have permeated the Republican Party over the past year. Many Democrats view the move as a political tactic, given that the majority of dropbox usage in 2020 occurred in heavily Democratic areas.
However, the question of whether voters are properly represented at the polls should be nonpartisan. While Republicans have historically supported sweeping voter restrictions, the Democrats’ upset victory in 2020 has spurred blatant attempts to curb voter engagement, specifically targeting traditionally Democratic voters. In Georgia, Biden won mail-in votes by a 30% margin, while Trump won in-person Election Day votes by a 23% margin.
Republicans have acknowledged this discrepancy and questioned the legitimacy of mail-in voting methods, despite the lack of evidence of widespread fraud by mail-in voting or other types of voting.
Miller co-sponsored the previously mentioned SB 202, which infamously banned distributing food and water to voters lining up within 150 feet of ballot boxes, supposedly to prevent political organizations from coercing voters. Importantly, however, the bill bars “anyone” from handing out food and water, not just political organizations, deterring those who may not be prepared to wait in line for several hours. .
The bill also reduced the number of days voters can request mail-in ballots to 11 weeks, less than half of the 180 days previously allowed. Counties were limited to one mail-in ballot box per 100,000 residents, and ballot boxes are now only accessible during voting hours, instead of 24/7 as was previously acceptable.
These provisions eliminated three-quarters of the ballot boxes in four of Georgia’s most populous counties: Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett. The bill also introduced stricter ID requirements at the polls, affecting the 272,000 registered voters in Georgia who do not have state-issued IDs, the majority of whom are black and live in of Democratic-leaning counties, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. . Georgia is in litigation with the US Department of Justice, which sued the state in June based on the claim that SB 202 promotes voter suppression on the basis of race.
Ballot boxes only became part of Georgian law in 2020, due to concerns over the pandemic, during which voter turnout hit an all-time high. Mail-in ballots offer a much more convenient method of voting for those who don’t have reliable transportation or are inconvenienced by other Election Day responsibilities, such as a job or childcare. Many people simply cannot afford to wait in line for hours.
As false claims of voter fraud mount, Republicans continue to attack the franchise to advance their own agenda. Desperate to hold on to power in the South, they realize that by targeting low-income, non-white voters they increase their chances of victory. However, these efforts, including the recently introduced bill to ban mail-in ballot boxes, will only serve to marginalize those most vulnerable to voter suppression and diminish the progress made in 2020 that has led record turnout.
The number of Clarke County voters who voted by mail will likely drop significantly as voting methods are phased out. The future of the pandemic is uncertain, and many of our fellow citizens will rightly be hesitant to vote in person in the upcoming 2022 elections.
This should be a concern for everyone, regardless of party affiliation. It is imperative to recognize the measures put in place that aim to remove the representation and to express our opposition.