Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping voting bill into law that caused immediate outcries of voter suppression. Especially egregious to most was a provision that is said to disallow water or food from being passed out to voters standing in line.
Not so fast. Let’s be more precise in condemning and complaining. Yes, the overall law suppresses voting but there appears to me to be a reason behind this “water” provision. Here are details.
The law says that “third parties are prohibited from passing out food and water to voters within 150 feet of the building housing the polling place or within 25 feet of any voter in line.” Note, poll workers, however, may do so.
So, while this provision brings up visions of voters collapsing in line, it shouldn’t.
Previously, third-party groups could establish tables outside polling places and provide food and water to voters in line, thus skirting laws of campaigning too close to the polls. That’s because while passing out food and water, they may put in a good word for their candidate or cause.
Trust me. It works. I’m the cute kid who handed out campaign cards at the front door of our precinct in the 1950s when West Virginia allowed it. And I single-handedly elected Ira Baxter to Justice of the Peace of Elk District by doing so. He ran neck and neck in other precincts but won overwhelmingly in mine, so a last-minute word can make a difference.
However, the criticism that voters can’t get water while standing in line is misguided. A restriction, yes, but not one that will cause death or suppress voter participation.
Other provisions are more nefarious. Presently the earliest a voter can request a mail-in ballot is 77 days (11 weeks) before an election instead of 180 days previously. Additionally, the ballot now must be returned two Fridays before election day instead of the last Friday as before. However, importantly, counties can’t mail out ballots until four weeks before election rather than seven weeks as previously allowable.
That results in a mere two-week window for the voter to receive, vote, and return ballots. It’s an unconscionable reduction of the absentee voting period.
In the category of a possible restriction while also expanding voting, there’s the number of secure absentee ballot drop box sites made available. It’s a restriction in that no more than one drop box per 100,000 active voters, or one for every early voting site, may be available, whichever is less. The caveat is they must be inside early voting sites.
This means the ballot drop boxes will be available only during the days and hours early voting sites are open versus previously being available 24/7.
This is an expansion in that there must be one ballot drop box per county. In some rural, mainly Republican counties, they will be required to have at least one. An expansion. More urban counties tending to vote Democrat may see their drop boxes reduced or stay the same. Overall, the effect of this change is unknown, but it will probably favor Republicans.
In another toss-up, most smaller counties will have their early voting expanded to include an additional mandatory Saturday and longer minimum hours. Larger counties might not notice a change. About 1,152 of Georgia’s 2,652 precincts (43.5%) are small with less than 2,000 voters. This move will probably favor Republicans.
Fulton County (Atlanta) previously used two mobile voting buses that were moved among precincts based on voter turnout and thus saved voters time in line. These are now prohibited except during an emergency declared by the governor. Removing these from service will probably suppress the number of voters in heavily Democratic Fulton County. A move in favor of Republicans.
So, while the new Georgia Voting Law favors Republicans and suppresses the vote, it’s not because third parties are prevented from passing out food or water to voters standing in line. That’s a red herring.
Other details are much more nefarious than this.