Breaking: Dem Abuses Prompted Georgia Voting Law’s Food-and-Drink Rule

On Election Day in 2018, Matthew Wilson arrived at his polling location and saw a long line of voters outside the suburban Atlanta high school.

The first-time Democratic candidate for the state House of Representatives ordered four pizzas, and handed out slices to the people in line, while a campaign worker photographed it all and then posted pictures on social media, according to a local newspaper account.

Two years later, in the run-up to the 2020 general election, Georgia state Representative Roger Bruce and a local county commissioner were photographed handing out snacks to voters waiting in line at the courthouse of an Atlanta exurb. Bruce, a Democrat running unopposed for reelection, wore a "State Representative Roger Bruce" shirt, according to another newspaper.

Those are just two cases Georgia elections leaders are investigating for possible violations of state law, including allegations of vote buying and illegal campaigning within 150 feet of a polling location. Both Wilson and Bruce have denied knowingly violating the law.

A Republican effort to rein in the practice, known as "line warming," by clarifying that the law prohibits offering any gifts — including food and drinks — within 150 feet of a polling location, may be the most controversial, misunderstood, and mischaracterized provision of Georgia's new voting-security law. Left-wing critics have seized on the "food or drink" provision to characterize the law as a racist attempt to disenfranchise minority voters, and to essentially punish them by denying them refreshments while they're waiting in line. President Joe Biden has cited the provision, telling reporters you "don't need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting." Cowed by activists, Major League Baseball on Friday pulled the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta over its objections to the law.

But the law doesn't ban giving voters food or drinks, as Biden said. Instead, it clarifies where it can be done — 150 feet from a polling location entrance and 25 feet from the line of voters.

The reason for the new provision was to cut down on the real, and increasingly abused practice of line warming, which already was against the law in Georgia, the authors of the state House and Senate election-security bills told National Review. The two bills were eventually merged into Senate Bill 202, which was signed in late March by Georgia governor Brian Kemp.

The food-and-drink provision of Georgia's law is based on a similar provision in New York state's election law, state Senate majority leader Mike Dugan said.

Numerous Complaints and a Crack Down

In the weeks leading up to January's high-profile U.S. Senate runoffs in Georgia, line warming was becoming such an issue that Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent a notice to state election officials directing them to crack down on the practice. The state is now investigating several allegations of candidates and their supporters handing out food, drinks, and coupons for sandwiches to voters waiting in line. It's also looking into at least two cases of food trucks sponsored by political organizations that parked within the 150-foot voting buffer.

According to one local newspaper account, on the day of the January 5 runoff, a resident was seen passing out snacks to people waiting in line to vote at a suburban Atlanta elementary school. The snack station had a sign and phone number for the "Georgia Voter Protection Line," run by the state Democratic Party.

"We received numerous complaints and have multiple investigations into active campaigning within restricted areas and to giving away things of value for voting, both of which are illegal," Raffensperger's office said in an email to National Review. "It was clear that campaigns and organizations were confused about the law and clarification was needed."

In response to the line-warming activity, the authors of the voting-security law — Dugan and state Representative Barry Fleming — clarified the rules in their omnibus bill, prohibiting "any person" from giving "any money or gifts, including but not limited to, food or drink" to a voter in line.

"It's always been a part of Georgia law that we have this 150-foot area around the polls where you don't allow campaign activity," Fleming told National Review. But candidates and political groups have been pushing the boundaries, he said, and line warming "was increasing in activity."

"It got to the point that, according to people that we spoke with, it was becoming much more of an area of activity, rather than just people getting ready to vote," Fleming said.

The new law allows poll workers to make food and drinks available generally to voters in line, and it certainly doesn't stop voters from bringing snacks or drinks with them, Dugan said. Candidates, political groups, or anyone else who wants to offer food, drinks or other items, can still make them available outside the 150-foot buffer and 25 feet from the voting line. They can still approach people in the parking lot, and before they get in line to vote.

"You can still have the water, and you can have the snacks and everything," Dugan said. "You just can't actively work those that are waiting in line to vote. If they come to you, that's one thing. You can't go to them while they're waiting."

Prior to the new voting law, it already was against the law to provide "money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate." But Dugan said the prohibitions on what constituted line warming were "a little loose," and "it started becoming more and more aggressive."

"The part that was getting a little bit carried away was, 'We're not campaigning. We're handing out free drinks and snacks,'" Dugan said. "Let's take it to the extremes. Let's say the Proud Boys decided they were going to come and stand outside of precincts and pass out water and go up and down the lines. That could be taken by some as voter intimidation."

The new law clarifies that handing out money or gifts — including food and drinks, or really anything else of value — to voters in line is prohibited for everyone, regardless of their political or nonpolitical intent. "We don't really want to put the poll workers in the position to have to define (political intent) constantly all day long," Fleming said.

Biden cited the food-and-drink provision when he called the new law an "atrocity" that "makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle." Dugan called his comments "unfortunate and disturbing."

"You never want to be called out by the president," he said. "But it's also, you never want your president to be that wrong when he says something publicly. He's just wrong."

Georgia Provision Based on New York Election Law

When crafting the voting law, Georgia lawmakers explored election laws in every state, Dugan said. Most states have some distance limits for campaigning at polling locations, from ten feet in Pennsylvania to 300 feet in Iowa, where influencing voters, soliciting votes, political persuasion, and passing out campaign materials and literature is prohibited.

Montana has a law prohibiting candidates, their family members, and their campaign workers from offering voters "alcohol, tobacco, food, drink or anything of value." Dugan said the food-and-drink provision in the new Georgia law is based on a New York state election law that prohibits "furnishing money or entertainment to induce attendance at the polls," including "meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision" unless it is worth less than a dollar and the person providing it is not identified.

"We copied that from New York," Dugan said, though there are differences between Georgia's and New York's provisions. Georgia doesn't have a one-dollar exception, for example.

Dugan said the efforts to tighten the state's voting laws really started after the 2018 election, when Democrat Stacey Abrams refused to concede her race for governor to Kemp.

"This started after the Abrams campaign, where she was the one making all of the allegations, and saying that we needed to do reform," Dugan said. "As a matter of fact, some of our speeches from the floor were direct lifts of speeches Democratic members made after that election."

Dugan said the election-security efforts ramped up even more after then-President Donald Trump disputed the 2020 election results. Trump lost the state by fewer than 12,000 votes in November.

With Georgia so closely divided politically, Dugan said, the state will likely have close elections for years to come, and "we can't have this uncertainty that we had for the last two (elections) in a row, 'Is this a valid election?' That why we codified some stuff that was best practices, and then we just cleaned up some other areas."

Fleming and Dugan said critics of the new law aren't pointing out that it expands early voting, codifies ballot drop boxes for the first time (the drop boxes would have otherwise gone away when the COVID-19 medical emergency was over), and makes efforts to cut down long waits at the polls by giving the state authority to require more polling places and voting machines in overcrowded precincts.

"That's part of the whole goal, is to make (voting) more efficient and better," Fleming said. "The idea of long lines on Election Day are becoming less of a problem in Georgia, will be less of a problem because of this bill."

The state can combat misinformation about the new law through education, Dugan said. But intentional disinformation about the law is another issue. "That is a problem we're facing right now," Dugan said. "When you're knowingly and willingly spreading false information to advance a narrative, I think that's reprehensible."

Dugan said he was "obviously disappointed" to hear criticism of the new law from major Georgia-based corporations, including Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines. Delta CEO Ed Bastian has called the law "unacceptable" and said it "does not match Delta's values."

"I had representatives from Delta in my office last week, and they gave me no indication they were going to make a statement like that," Dugan said. "As a matter of fact, I go through the provisions of the bill, and they didn't go, 'Yeah, but we don't like this part.' They didn't say any of that. I had a representative from Coca-Cola there. Nothing."

Fleming said corporate leaders are afraid of potential boycotts.

"It used to be called a shakedown," Fleming said. "The Left is very much in favor of boycotts. The Right, not so much. And corporate America reacts."

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Dem Abuses Prompted Georgia Voting Law’s Food-and-Drink Rule

And despite outrage from the Left, the state only 'copied' a similar ban already in place in New ... READ MORE

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