Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller is pushing to eliminate all absentee ballot drop boxes in the state, only months after he voted to install them.
Miller, the No. 2 Republican in the state Senate and a candidate for lieutenant governor, has introduced Senate Bill 325, which would eliminate drop boxes, a focal point among pro-Trump Republicans who ginned up unfounded fears about mail-in voting. The state's election board approved the use of drop boxes amid the pandemic last year.
"Drop boxes were introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic but many counties did not follow the security guidelines in place, such as the requirement for camera surveillance on every drop box," Miller said in a statement. "Moving forward, we can return to a pre-pandemic normal of voting in person. Removing drop boxes will help rebuild the trust that has been lost. Many see them as the weak link when it comes to securing our elections against fraud. For the small number of Georgians who need to vote absentee, that will remain as easy and accessible as it was before 2020."
Voting rights groups accused Miller of "going all-in on the Big Lie."
"Instead of figuring out how to put together policies that will help our people, he is preemptively erecting barriers to voting a year out," Stephanie Ali, policy director at the New Georgia Project, said in a statement, arguing that Miller's proposal shows he is "terrified" of the state's changing demographics after Republicans got swept in the last round of statewide races.
Election officials around the country have warned that proposals like Miller's will make it more difficult to vote, particularly for voters of color.
"Efforts like Sen. Miller's to remove drop boxes or place other restrictions on voting are not about election security, but part of a national coordinated attack on democracy," Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, chairwoman of the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, told Salon. "Nationwide, the voter suppression proposals and laws disproportionately affect people of color and working people — these are the voices extreme lawmakers are trying to suppress to tip future elections in their favor. Candidates should win by running good campaigns, not by undemocratically taking away Americans' freedoms."
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has pushed back against false GOP election claims and Donald Trump's efforts to overturn his loss, rejected Miller's claim that every county did not have video surveillance, noting that officials had identified only one irregularity: a woman who cast a ballot one minute after the deadline.
"This office and I have worked very hard on making sure we have integrity up and down the line," he told WSB-TV.
On Tuesday, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that helped the GOP write a slew of new voting restrictions, ranked Georgia No. 1 in the country on "election integrity," including the new drop boxes.
"It means that we're a leader in voter integrity and also security," Raffensperger told the news outlet.
Georgia Democrats called out Miller for pushing the proposal after he said in a recent interview that newly-arrived Georgians "need to assimilate into our values and our culture."
"Butch Miller's proposal to blow up our elections based on lies is part of his sad, desperate attempt to win over far-right voters after Donald Trump endorsed his primary opponent," Scott Hogan, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement. "We already know Butch Miller is terrified of Georgia's diversifying electorate — now, he's trying to silence the voters of color who elected Democrats last cycle by banning one of the most popular ways they chose to cast their ballots."
Just months earlier, Miller joined other Georgia Republicans in supporting Senate Bill 202, a sweeping set of voting restrictions that codified the use of drop boxes, even while restricting their availability. But Miller now faces an opponent endorsed by Trump, and appears intent on trying to win over Trump supporters after the former president accused him of not doing enough to try to overturn his election defeat. Repeated reviews and investigations have found no evidence of fraud or widespread irregularities in Georgia — or for that matter in any other state.
"Trump's grip on the Republican Party is clear: he has made endorsing the Big Lie a litmus test for his support," Griswold said. "Now, hundreds of candidates running under the GOP banner at the county, state and federal levels have promoted lies about the 2020 elections. We need lawmakers and election administrators who will respect voters and their decisions at the ballot box, even if they don't like the outcome. That is how democracy works."
Miller is running to replace Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican who opted not to run for re-election after spending much of the year battling election conspiracy theories from his own party. Duncan has said that he does not think anything should be done about drop boxes.
"I'm one of those Republicans that want more people to vote," he said earlier this year.
An analysis by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia Public Broadcasting earlier this year found that heavily Democratic counties like Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett were far more likely to use the drop boxes than Republican areas. More than 305,000 of about 547,000 absentee ballots in the metro Atlanta area were cast using drop boxes, compared to just 32% of the absentee votes in 11 smaller countries.
"This legislation is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt to further undermine faith in the results of the 2020 election and win support with those who simply cannot accept that they lost," Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said in a statement. "Our absentee ballot drop boxes were safe and secure — three counts of the vote and monitors from the Secretary of State's office proves that."
Georgia has already restricted the use of drop boxes. Though SB 202 required each county to have at least one drop box per 100,000 active voters, they must now be located inside early voting sites and can only be accessible during early voting days and hours. Voting rights advocates accused Republicans of seeking to "limit options in the metro areas versus the rural areas" where Republicans tend to do better.
Miller's proposal comes ahead of two high-profile elections in the state next year. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., the state's first Black senator, is up for re-election and appears likely to face Trump favorite Herschel Walker, a former NFL star. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who has rejected Trump's election fraud claims, is set to take on Trump-endorsed former Sen. David Perdue in the GOP primary, ahead of a potential rematch with former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, who refused to concede her race in 2018 after accusing Kemp of voter suppression. Abrams has charged that Georgia Republicans' crackdown on ballot access is a "redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie" targeting Black voters.
SB 202 is already having noticeable effects on the state's elections. Rejected absentee ballot requests rose 400% in November's municipal elections after the state-imposed new restrictions, and 52% of rejected applications were denied because they were submitted after the state's new deadline, which requires voters to request ballots at least 11 days before an election. State lawmakers have also used the new law to replace local election officials with their own picks, often replacing Black Democrats with white conservatives.
Griswold said laws like SB 202 are part of the "worst attack on democracy in recent history." She called on Congress to pass voting rights legislation in response to the ballot access crackdown, urging the Senate to reform the filibuster because "American democracy is more important than antiquated Senate rules." While the Senate has renewed its focus on voting rights amid increasingly aggressive Republican gerrymandering, which threatens the Democratic House majority, conservative Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have ruled out any changes to the filibuster.
"Access to the ballot box shouldn't be dependent on voters' zip code, political party or the amount of money in their bank account. Every eligible American deserves to have their voice heard and their vote counted," Griswold said. "Congress needs to do its job and pass the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act as soon as possible to combat this historic wave of voter suppression."