Georgia Republican proposes eliminating ballot drop boxes ahead of 2022 elections

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Georgia legislator has introduced a bill that would eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes, a favored and highly-used tool last November that allowed voters to safely cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.

Butch Miller, the No.2 Republican in Georgia's Republican-controlled senate and a candidate for lieutenant governor in the 2022 elections, said drop boxes were a “weak link” in guarding against voter fraud, according to a statement released by his office.

Former President Donald Trump had criticized Miller, the Georgia Senate’s president pro tempore, for not doing more to pursue his false voter fraud allegations and has said he will not support Miller's bid for lieutenant governor.

Georgia will see two high-profile contests next year, when former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams likely takes on Republican Governor Brian Kemp in rematch of their 2018 battle. Kemp must first fend off a primary challenge from David Perdue, a Trump-backed former U.S. senator who has endorsed his false election fraud claims.

Democratic U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, the state’s first African-American senator, is up for re-election. The leading Republican candidate is Herschel Walker, a former football star at the University of Georgia and in the NFL.

The southern state became a flashpoint of baseless election conspiracy theories after President Joe Biden's upset victory over Trump last November. Kemp and the state's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, have insisted no widespread fraud occurred.

Democrats narrowly won two U.S. Senate races in the state that gave them majority control of that chamber. Warnock won one of them in a special run-off for the final two years of a term after Republican Johnny Isakson resigned for health reasons.

Earlier this year, the Georgia legislature passed a voting reform measure that sharply limited the number of drop boxes, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning, urban counties with significant Black populations that relied on the boxes during the pandemic. The law also shortened the time for requesting an absentee ballot.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the state in June, alleging that several provisions in the bill were adopted with the purpose of suppressing the right to vote on account of race.

In addition, the general assembly passed a series of county-specific bills that handed greater control of local election boards to Republican county commissions, pushing out some outspoken Black advocates in the process.

(Reporting by James Oliphant, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Bill Berkrot)