Fewer voters used drop boxes after Georgia voting law limited them

Bill would eliminate drop boxes entirely

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Constrained by Georgia’s voting law, ballot drop box usage plunged in the fall elections.

Roughly half as many absentee voters returned their ballots in drop boxes in metro Atlanta’s core counties in 2021 compared with the 2020 general election, according to ballot collection forms obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Now, Georgia lawmakers are considering a bill that would eliminate drop boxes entirely in future elections.

Georgia drop boxes
Usage of drop boxes declined after Georgia's voting law limited their availability.
Source: Ballot collection forms

Most absentee voters in metro Atlanta relied on drop boxes in 2020 rather than depend on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver their ballots before polls closed on Election Day.

The widespread adoption of drop boxes and Donald Trump’s loss led some Republicans to claim they were used for fraud, though no evidence supporting those allegations has been made public. In turn, the GOP majority in the General Assembly clamped down on their use.

Last year, fewer voters used drop boxes after their availability decreased.

Georgia’s voting law limited drop boxes to early voting locations and hours, meaning voters were unable to deliver ballots in the evening or during the three days before election day.

The law also capped the number of drop boxes at one per 100,000 active voters in each county. As a result, the number of drop boxes in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties decreased from 87 in 2020 to 20 last year.

“Many people liked that the boxes were open 24 hours a day in 2020 and right up until the closing of the polls,” Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler said. “There were limited hours in 2021, and also they were shut down completely by Friday before the election. The last weekend and Monday is when they’re needed most, after it becomes too late to mail the ballots.”

One-third of absentee voters returned their ballots in drop boxes during the fall elections in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, according to drop box collection forms obtained by the AJC through records requests. Gwinnett County didn’t run local elections in 2021.

By comparison, 60% of absentee ballots were delivered in those three counties’ drop boxes during the 2020 election, when they were more widely available.

House Speaker David Ralston said “it’s time to move forward” after Georgia’s voting law, Senate Bill 202, already regulated drop boxes last year.

“I never heard anyone propose that we completely abolish drop boxes when we were debating this bill last session,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “I’m not sure what’s changed there.”

The proposal to scuttle drop boxes, Senate Bill 325, comes from state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Republican running for lieutenant governor against state Sen. Burt Jones, a Trump-endorsed Republican from Jackson.

“If you can show up to put your ballot in the drop box, you can show up to vote,” said Miller, who represents the Gainesville area. “Drop boxes are a burden on many counties, and counties are already stretched thin.”

Along with the decline in drop box usage, fewer voters used absentee ballots overall. After coronavirus case rates dropped in the fall, more people voted in person.

About 6% of voters in Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties cast absentee ballots in the fall’s local elections compared with 32% of voters in those counties in 2020. The rest of voters showed up either on election day or beforehand at early voting locations.