WASHINGTON, June 14 (Reuters) - Georgia Governor Brian Kemp this year signed into law sweeping voting restrictions sponsored by Republicans, with potentially big implications for how elections are administered in the battleground state in 2022, and the U.S. presidential contest of 2024.
Proponents say the legislation is needed to safeguard elections and restore voters' faith in the process. Opponents say it was born out of the Republican Party's "Big Lie," the false claim that Democrat Joe Biden's defeat of incumbent President Donald Trump in November was the result of widespread fraud.
Below are some of the law's most consequential changes, according to interviews with a dozen county leaders of the Democratic Party, Republican officials and election experts in Georgia.
The law limits each county to one drop box per 100,000 active registered voters or one for each early voting location, whichever number is smaller. The change will lead to a sharp drop from the 330 drop boxes used across the state in November.
The biggest impact will be felt in the most populous counties. For instance, the total number of drop boxes in Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett -- the four counties which encompass and surround Atlanta, and which contain more than a third of the state's Black population -- will shrink by three-fourths to 23, based on the latest voter data.
Moreover, the law says drop boxes must be placed inside early voting sites or at elections offices, and that they can only be used during early voting hours. In 2020, by comparison, drop boxes could be placed outdoors and made available to voters 24 hours a day and through the evening of Election Day.
Previously, a voter could request an absentee ballot as early as six months prior to an election and up until the Friday before an election. The new law cuts the window by more than half to 67 days.
The law also makes it illegal for election officials to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters, as Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, did ahead of the state's June 2020 primary election as the coronavirus pandemic raged. Mail voting proved particularly popular among Democrats in November; nearly two-thirds of the 1.3 million absentee votes cast in Georgia went to Biden.
The law will also require voters for the first time to provide proof of identify when requesting an absentee ballot.
More than 272,000 registered voters don't have a driver's license or state ID on file with election officials; most are Black and live in Democratic-leaning counties, according to an analysis of voter data by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
STATE ELECTION BOARD
The law created a new chair of the State Election Board, filling a post previously held by the Secretary of State with a "nonpartisan" executive appointed through the state legislature. Republicans currently control the legislature.
The law also gives the State Election Board the ability to suspend county election officials for poor performance or violations of state election regulations. Democrats worry that provision will allow the Republican-controlled board to install Republican partisans to oversee election counts.
Republicans say guardrails are built into the law to prevent quick or easy removal. Such an action requires a minimum of three violations of election rules or demonstration of "gross negligence" or "malfeasance" over the span of two consecutive elections.
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