Ban on food, water distribution to stay in place at Ga. voting sites

Richmond and Columbia counties break early voting records
Richmond and Columbia counties break early voting records(WRDW)
Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 12:20 PM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - A federal judge refused to block a provision of Georgia’s election law banning people from giving food and drinks, including water, to voters at polling places.

The decision by U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee came down late Thursday after a hearing about a month ago in a lawsuit involving several voting activist groups.

The judge said it’s too close to the November midterm elections to change the law. That doesn’t mean the provision won’t ultimately be struck down.

The lawsuit will continue forward, and the outcome could either change or uphold Senate Bill 202.


Voting activist groups say the provision infringes on their free-speech rights, so they wanted it blocked right away, even before the trial.

Lawyers for the state said the law prevents circus-like conditions around polling places.

Boulee noted in his ruling that the text of the law says the “sanctity of the [voting] precinct was ... brought into sharp focus in 2020, with many groups approaching electors while they waited in line.”

Lawmakers found that protecting voters “from improper interference, political pressure, or intimidation while waiting in line to vote is of paramount importance to protecting the election system,” Boulee wrote.

Boulee said the plaintiffs didn’t meet the standard to win a preliminary injunction against providing food and drinks within 150 feet of a polling place.

But he said it remains to be seen whether it’s legal to bar groups from offering food and drink within 25 feet of any voter standing in line. He said one problem is that the length of a line isn’t specific; lines are long in some elections and nonexistent in others.

In any case, it’s too close to the midterm election to decide on that, he said, because it would cause confusion.

So the case will go forward, but the law will stay in effect for now.

Jess Unger, staff attorney for the Power and Democracy program at the Advancement Project National Office, said the provision “particularly impacts communities of color in Georgia who have historically faced some of the longest waiting times at the ballot box in the country.”

Unger said people of color are six times more likely than white voters to wait more than an hour to vote, and the provision will affect voter turnout in Black communities.

“When voters are brought food and water by volunteers or community leaders, they understand this to be a message of unconditional support, gratitude, and shared strength,” Unger said. “It helps them stay in line and participate in the political process. To deny help to voters experiencing fatigue and hunger while waiting in hours-long lines is simply antithetical to the practice of democracy.”