Republicans block proposal to let voters standing in line receive water at the polls

Jon Ossoff of Georgia proposes measure to combat Georgia law that criminalises volunteers handing out food and water at the polls

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 11 May 2021 15:48 EDT
<p>Voters stand in line during Georgia’s US Senate run-off election on 5 January.</p>

Voters stand in line during Georgia’s US Senate run-off election on 5 January.

Republicans on the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday rejected an amendment to the For The People Act that would ban states from restricting volunteers from handing out food or water to people standing in line to vote.

The amendment was proposed by Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia – where Republicans have recently passed a law that criminalises giving out food and water to voters at the polls – as part of his Voter Access to Water Act.

Republicans have claimed that allowing people to hand out food and water would encourage electioneering at the polls, which is already illegal.

Mr Ossoff said the Senate has been “somewhat plagued by a presumption of partisan bad faith” and asked senators to drop the “reflexive tendency to perceive the worst” from Democratic proposals supporting voting rights.

“It is already against the law … to campaign or engage in political advocacy or electioneering, wear campaign merchandise, have conversations with voters about who they’re going to vote for” while in line to vote, he said. “That’s already a crime.”

The committee is debating amendments for the For The People Act, sweeping voting rights and campaign finance reform legislation that has been supposed by House Democrats and the White House. It faces stiff opposition from an evenly divided Senate.

In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law an elections bill that, among other measures, makes it a misdemeanor to give out food or water within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of a person standing in line to vote. Voting rights advocates have panned the law as an attempt to suppress votes in areas more likely to endure longer lines on Election Day.

Democrats have sought to pass the For The People Act as an antidote to ballot restrictions and other measures supported by Republicans across the US in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral defeat.

The measure proposes automatic voter registration, at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, and mail-in voting and drop boxes for absentee ballots, among a host of other proposals wrapped into the bill.

It would also make it more difficult to purge voters from voter rolls, restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, create independent redistricting commissions that redraw congressional districts in an effort to combat partisan-driven gerrymandering, and expose “dark money” groups and super PAC money, as well as funding sources behind political ads on Facebook and Twitter, among other measures aimed at campaign finance reform and transparency.

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