Judge says ban on food, water in election lines can stay in place for November election

ATLANTA — A U.S. District Judge says the law that prohibits distribution of food and drinks to voters waiting in line will remain in place for the November election.

In the 74-page order, the judge said that it was too close to the November election to make a change but left open the possibility that part of the ban may be overturned later.

In 2021, the Georgia Legislature passed the controversial Election Integrity Act, which, among other things, banned anyone from passing out food and water to anyone in voting lines.

Republican lawmakers worried that it ventured dangerously close to illegal electioneering and could be abused by certain groups who could use that loophole to campaign for their candidates.

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Jess Unger, staff attorney for the Power and Democracy program at Advancement Project National Office, released a statement following Friday’s ruling saying:

“The criminalization of people providing food and water to voters who are waiting to cast their ballots is a direct restriction of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. This particularly impacts communities of color in Georgia who have historically faced some of the longest waiting times at the ballot box in the country and currently are six times more likely than white voters to wait more than one hour to vote. What’s clear is that the line relief restrictions of SB 202 will ultimately suppress 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. 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.

“Despite denying the preliminary injunction, the court found it ‘substantially likely’ that part of the line relief ban is unconstitutional. Our plaintiffs’ fight against this and other provisions of SB 202 continues.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a previous statement that he would defend that part of the law “all the way to the US Supreme Court if I have to.”