While only 67 percent of eligible voters voted in 2020, 100 percent of them ate food and drank water.
Heading into the 2020 election, Georgia had been considered a reliably Republican state. They’d voted GOP for president in the last six presidential elections, and last elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate with Zell Miller in 2000. In 2020, though, Georgia voted Democratic for president and for both U.S. Senate elections.
In 2021, however, Republicans still held complete control of Georgia’s state government — governor, state Senate, and state House — because of the 2018 elections. The state passed the Election Integrity Act, which made election and voting laws more restrictive, by party-line votes of 100–75 in the state House and 34–20 in the state Senate.
One of the most controversial provisions bars anybody except poll workers from providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote. (See page 71 of the PDF link in the previous sentence.) Breaking the new law is punishable by up to one year in prison. The only other state with a similar provision is Montana.
What the legislation does
News bills in both the House and Senate would overturn that Georgia provision, by explicitly allowing food and water to be provided to voters while they wait in line in any state.
The House version was introduced on April 8 as the Stay in Line to Vote Act, H.R. 2440, by Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA7). The Senate version was introduced a month later on May 10 as the Voters’ Access to Water Act, S. 1539, by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA).
What supporters say
Supporters argue that food and water are basic human necessities, particularly in a potentially hot state like Georgia with up to 10-hour lines on Election Day.
“Georgia may be the first Republican-controlled state legislature to restrict access to the ballot in response to last year’s voter turnout, but it will not be the last,” Rep. Wild said in a press release. “There’s nothing more sacred in a democracy than the right to vote, and sustenance like food or water could be the difference between one’s ability to stay in line and exercise the right to vote or needing to leave without being able to vote.”
“Georgia voters are often made to wait hours in line to vote. This bill will ensure a nonpartisan, Good Samaritan volunteer can offer voters in line a bottle of water without fear of criminal prosecution,” Sen. Ossoff said in a separate press release.
What opponents say
Opponents counter that providing food or water can count as impermissible “gifts” to voters, who are potentially still making up their minds while waiting in line.
“Political organizations or advocacy groups will use the giveaways or gifts, known as ‘line warming,’ to inappropriately influence voters in the crucial final moments before they cast their ballots,” a press release from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “Such efforts violate the protections Georgia law has placed on campaigning near a polling location or voting line and the prohibitions on providing rewards to voters that were enacted to stop pay-for-vote schemes.
Odds of passage
The House version has attracted 21 cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Administration Committee.
The Senate version has attracted four cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.