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The facts about Georgia’s ban on food, water giveaways to voters
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping elections bill into law. It includes some controversial provisions about absentee and in-person voting.
One provision of the new law includes a ban on giving away water or food to voters within a certain distance of voters or polling sites.
The new law allows poll workers to set up self-serve water stations for voters to use.
On "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace and a Republican strategist argued about the particulars of Georgia’s new law banning certain food and water giveaways to voters in line.
"Why on earth, if Americans are willing to wait in hours to vote, would you make it a crime for people to come and give them a bottle of water?" Wallace asked.
Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Sen. Mitch McConnell, later came on and circled back to respond to Wallace’s assertion. Holmes said that Democrats have misrepresented that provision of a new Georgia law.
"I've heard it a couple times on this program, that the idea that they've criminalized giving people bottles of water. They have not," said Holmes, founder of a consulting firm. "What is in the statute, what is absolutely clear, is that they're preventing political organizations from giving people in line things: meals, water, what have you. Water is and should be provided at the polls for people who are standing in line."
Wallace and Holmes went back and forth about the particulars of the new Georgia law. Wallace repeatedly said that the new law bans giving food and water to voters in line, and Holmes pushed back.
"Are you really suggesting that it should be wrong to provide water or drinks to people waiting in line to exercise their democratic franchise?" Wallace asked.
Holmes replied: "No, I'm not. What I'm suggesting is wrong is to suggest that the law does that." He later said, "It very specifically says that it can't be provided by political entities seeking to one way or another influence an outcome of a vote."
We decided to fact-check Holmes’ statement that the Georgia law doesn’t criminalize giving voters bottles of water.
Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 202 on March 25. Voting rights advocates quickly sued and raised multiple objections, including to what the law says about food and water giveaways.
Voting rights advocates routinely organize food and water distribution near voting sites where residents sometimes have to wait in line for hours to vote, often in nonwhite communities, where polling places are more crowded. Some of the larger events are organized by those with ties to the left, although they make the food and water available to anyone.
Following the show, the debate moved to Twitter where "Fox News Sunday" and Holmes tweeted provisions of SB 202. Here is what that section of the law says:
"(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
(2) Within any polling place; or
(3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place."
The bill also states that poll workers can make available "self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote." But nothing in the law requires poll workers to make water easily available to voters while they are waiting in line.
Holmes tweeted that the "last section clearly exempts poll workers from prohibitions on political entities providing, water etc."
Holmes is correct that poll workers can set up self-serve water stations. However, during the show he misled when he said the law doesn’t criminalize giving away water.
The law makes it a misdemeanor to give away food or water within 150 feet of the outer edge of a polling place building or within 25 feet of any voter in line. Violations of this law are punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. While people other than poll workers can give away food or water, they have to adhere to these boundaries to avoid breaking the law.
Holmes emphasized in an email to PolitiFact that water is allowed, but from an unattended receptacle. And he repeated his assertion that the law is targeted at preventing people from political organizations from making such handouts.
"I was responding specifically to the repeated claims that it criminalized water at the polls," Holmes told PolitiFact. "In reading the statute and speaking with Georgia officials, I understand that the intent of the statute is to deter electioneering at the polls, which is consistent with many other state laws. What I thought required clarification about the claim of criminalizing water, is that this Georgia statute was not silent on the issue. It specifically addressed the manner in which it may be provided."
But the language in the law doesn’t ban only political entities from handing out water.
Keith Williams, general counsel to Republican House Speaker David Ralston, told PolitiFact: "Any individual other than a worker at a polling place is prohibited from handing out water, etc., within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of the line."
Election law experts reached similar conclusions.
"I read the solicitation provision and the prohibition on food and water at the polls to be separate prohibitions in the law," said Richard Hasen, a University of California Irvine election law professor. "It is not limited to those who are soliciting votes."
Justin Levitt, a Loyola Marymount University law school professor, told PolitiFact: "I read, and I believe courts would read, SB 202 to prohibit anyone from giving food or water to any voter in line."
A spokesperson with Georgia's secretary of state noted that voters are welcome to bring their own food and refreshments with them to stand in line. He said the purpose of the provision is to avoid having situations such as candidates handing out water or food wrapped in campaign materials.
Cracking down on food and water giveaways to voters in Georgia is not new. A state law already banned giving gifts "for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate." That provision doesn’t mention food or water directly, but Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had previously interpreted it to include food or water.
Holmes said a Georgia law has not "criminalized giving people bottles of water." It pertains to political organizations.
SB 202 makes it a crime for people — and not just people from political organizations — to hand out food or bottles of water within 150 feet of a polling place or 25 feet of any voter standing in line.
The only kernel of truth is that the law has a sentence which allows poll workers to make available "self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote." But just because poll workers can make self-service water available, doesn’t mean they are required to come up with a way to make water accessible to voters in every line at every polling site. Also, people could hand out water or food to voters outside the 150-foot and 25-foot boundaries.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Georgia SB202, 2021
Fox News Sunday, Video and transcript, March 28, 2021
Georgia Public Radio, What Does Georgia's New Voting Law SB 202 Do? March 26, 2021
Georgia Public Radio reporter Stephen Fowler, Tweet, March 27, 2021
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sweeping changes to Georgia elections signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp; March 25, 2021
U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division, The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, Rise, Inc vs Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, March 25, 2021
U.S. District Court Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division, Georgia State Conference of the NAACP et al vs Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, March 28, 2021
PolitiFact, Georgia bill would ban giving food, water to voters in line, March 9, 2021
Email interview, Keith Williams, General Counsel – office of the Speaker of the House, March 29, 2021
Email interview, Walter Jones, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger spokesperson, March 29, 2021
Email interview, Josh Holmes, founding partner of Cavalry LLC, March 29, 2021
Email interview, Justin Levitt, a constitutional law professor at Loyola Marymount University, March 29, 2021
Email interview, Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, March 29 2021
Email interview, Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, March 29, 2021
Email interview, Myra Perez, director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, March 29, 2021
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