Georgia Republicans in the state legislature just passed a voting omnibus bill that will effectively restrict voting access for many people in the state of Georgia. I say many ‘people’ using a generic term, but the real effect, and the intended recipients of the voting restrictions, are Black Georgians.
The text of the bill tries to ‘both sides’ it by referencing concerns expressed about the 2018 election, and comparing it equally to the lies former President Donald Trump mouthed whenever he had a microphone. Any thinking person would understand the two are not comparable. The two aren’t even on the same planet. But that doesn’t stop the Republican legislators from implying their actions are to help ‘both sides’, even if they can’t answer a simple, direct question: would you be pushing these laws if Trump had won in Georgia.
There are very disturbing elements in SB 202 including the fact that the Georgia legislature has given itself significant control over country election boards, in addition to undermining the Secretary of State’s traditional authority over election procedures and processes. This is the same legislature that invited Trump cronies to ‘testify’ in committee hearings on the ‘rampant fraud’ in the state and how most of our votes should be tossed and the state just anoint Trump.
(It takes a lot of chutzpah to, on the one hand, undermine the very democracy on which this country is based, and on the other, call your voting restriction bill the “Election Integrity Act of 2021”.)
Over time, I’ll get into more detail in exactly why this new bill is bad, but for now I want to focus on one measure that is extreme—not in its danger to democracy, but in its sheer pettiness.
It is now a crime to hand a bottle of water to a person standing in line to vote.
Water Bottles at 25 Feet
Just to assure you that I’m not taking any section of SB 202 out of context, I’m reprinting the passage associated with water bottles:
Section 33 (a): No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast
(1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established;
(2) Within any polling place; or
(3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.
I highlighted the addition to the existing law.
Basically, it states you can’t give food or water to any voter standing in line, regardless of where they are in the line and how long they’ve been in line. If you give a voter a bottle of water, you will be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor.
Turning an act of kindness into a crime
In the past we’ve seen voters standing in long lines in order to cast their votes. Frequently, these voters are people of color, and the polls are located in largely urban areas. To encourage voters to remain in line, and to thank them for voting, people have taken to sending pizza, meals, and bottles of water to those waiting. Contrary to the delusional imaginations of the Georgia Republicans, doing so is not a bribe nor will it impact on how a person votes. It is a celebration of democracy, and a simple act of human kindness.
The fact that someone has to be in line over 15 minutes at any time is bad enough, but now the Georgia Republicans, in their infinite capacity for petty meanness, have determined that no matter how long you wait, no person can give you a drink of water.
By any human standard, what does denying water or food to voters have to do with election integrity and fraud? Do Republicans believe we’ll slip microchips into water that will somehow manipulate voting machines? Do they really think a voter is going to change their mind because someone hands them a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee?
(Don’t let Donald Trump know of this new change in the law, or that will be the topic of his next twitter-like press release: “Microchips in the water! Steal!”)
Giving someone a bottle of water when they’re in line to vote won’t change votes. What will change votes is making this simple act of kindness into a crime.
Optics, Guys. Optics
I’m astonished not only at the level of pettiness represented by this new rule, but also its stupidity.
I already know of dozens of people who intend to show up with bottles of water to give out during the next election. I can just see the optics of police moving in to arrest people solely for this act of human kindness. I can guarantee the arrests will show up on the evening news. Even Fox News will telecast it.
Why on earth would anyone incorporate something so blatantly idiotic in a voting bill?
It could be that the food and drink addendum is a distraction, intended to focus people on this new rule rather than some of the more insidious, and dangerous, modifications to the state’s voting laws.
However, the regulation fails miserably as a distraction because it demonstrates that none of these changes to our voting law were really about solving a problem. The real reason for the changes are because when an election is a fair fight, Republicans are losing. Not even Sydney Powell at her most idiotic, or Rudy Giuliani at his most desperate, made any claim that handing out water to people in line is why Donald Trump lost.