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Georgia Bill Would Criminalize Giving Water to Voters Waiting in Long Lines

The measure is part of a bill that reduces early voting times and imposes other restrictive measures on Georgia voters.

Voters wait in a long line to vote at the Buckhead library in Atlanta on the first day of in-person early voting for the Georgia Senate runoff election on December 14, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Republicans in Georgia are passing restrictive voting laws, ostensibly to “protect” people’s votes but which critics have said create unnecessary burdens to voters, particularly within communities of color.

Georgia House Bill 531, which passed in the Georgia General Assembly on Monday, would add a voter ID requirement for absentee ballots, limit the number and locations of early voting drop-off boxes, and reduce early voting days during the weekends prior to an election — including allowing just one Sunday to vote early.

If passed into law, individuals could be charged with misdemeanor crime if they hand out food or drinks to voters standing in line on election days.

Critics warn that some of the restrictions are completely unnecessary and could harm get-out-the-vote “Souls to the Polls” events that are common among Black churches across the state.

Voting lines in Georgia are notoriously long, particularly in Black and Brown communities, where the number of voting locations has been cut drastically in recent years. It can take voters several hours to cast their ballots at polling places on election day.

“Why do we have to add in making it illegal to give a bottled water to someone? If we’re really not trying to suppress the vote, why are we even making giving water to someone an issue?” Democratic State Rep. Patty Bently told 13WMAZ.

Democratic Rep. Kimberly Alexander said that GOP lawmakers are ramping up voter suppression efforts after two incumbent Republican U.S. senators and former President Donald Trump lost the state in recent elections.

“Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly are trying to change the rules of the election here in Georgia, rules that you wrote, because you were handed defeat,” Democratic Rep. Kimberly Alexander said to Capitol Beat News Service. “You know that your only chance of winning future elections is to prevent Georgians from having their votes counted and their voices heard.”

The bill is scheduled for debate and a vote in the Republican-run Senate. A separate set of measures are also being considered in that legislative chamber, which would limit which voters could apply for absentee ballots, disallowing the state’s “no-excuse” practice of granting any voter who requests a ballot to get one.

The Senate bill would restrict absentee ballots to voters who are over age 65, physically disabled or are out of town at the time of an election.

Several states across the U.S. have adopted or pursued restrictive voting laws following Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

“Republicans responded to historic turnout by introducing a wave of legislation restricting voting rights in states across the country,” Anoa Changa wrote for Truthout. “Safeguarding our rights, which are constantly under attack at the state level, requires the same level of engagement (if not more) than that given to presidential and other federal elections.”

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