GOP targets ballot drop boxes in Georgia, Florida, elsewhere

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FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, an election worker stamps a vote-by-mail ballot dropped off by a voter before placing it in an official ballot drop box before at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral, Fla. Ballot drop boxes were enormously popular during the 2020 election, with few problems reported. Yet they have drawn the attention of Republican lawmakers in key states who say security concerns warrant new restrictions. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

ATLANTA – Atlanta-area voters looking to return their ballots using a drop box in next year’s gubernatorial election will have to do some searching.

Just eight boxes will be spread across Fulton County’s nearly 529 square miles — or about one for every 100,000 registered voters. That’s down from the 38 drop boxes that were available to voters last fall. It’s the result of a broad new law pushed by Georgia Republicans in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

Georgia is one of several states controlled politically by Republicans that are seeking additional restrictions on voting, citing security concerns. A favorite target is ballot drop boxes, which have been used for years in states with expansive mail voting and which millions of voters used last year as a way to avoid polling places during the pandemic.

Democrats say the boxes are more secure than regular mailboxes, and their use was largely trouble-free last fall. Even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who signed the restrictive bill into law, posted a video on his Twitter account that showed him using a drop box to cast his ballot last year, flashing a thumbs up sign afterward.

“They loved ballot drop boxes until Trump and the Republicans started losing,” said state Rep. Erica Thomas, a Democrat from metro Atlanta.

For election officials and voters across the country, drop boxes seemed like an ideal solution to two major problems in 2020: a coronavirus pandemic that raised fears about crowded polling places and reports of mail delays that threatened on-time delivery of ballots.

The boxes were targeted a few times by vandals, but few other problems were reported across the country. Even so, Republicans say they want to ensure the boxes will be a secure way to cast a ballot.

“It’s a continued narrative where you try to pit security against accessibility, and you have to choose one or the other,” said Hillary Hall, a former county elections clerk in Colorado who now works with election officials across the country through the National Vote at Home Institute. “It’s a false choice.”