Joe Biden Botches the Georgia Voting Law

President Joe Biden talks to reporters as he arrives at New Castle Airport in New Castle, Del., March 26, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
His claim that the law prohibits giving water to voters standing on line is way off base.

Joe Biden, grasping the latest left-wing talking point pushed by Stacey Abrams and her media allies everywhere, has launched a misleading attack on Georgia Senate Bill 202, which Governor Brian Kemp just signed into law.

Here’s what Biden had to say:

It’s an atrocity. The idea, you want any indication, it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency. They pass a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line, while they’re waiting to vote.  You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can’t provide water for people about to vote? Give me a break.

Let’s take a look at what S.B. 202 actually says:

No person shall solicit votes [or] 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 [a voter] … This Code section shall not be construed to prohibit a poll officer…from making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to [a voter] waiting in line to vote.

The parts in bold are what S.B. 202 added to the statute. The prohibition applies inside polling places, within 150 feet of a polling place, or “within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.”

Now, first of all, notice what is not prohibited here. Voters can still bring bottled water or other food or beverages with them to stand on line to vote, as people often do when waiting at Disney World or to buy concert tickets or in other public places where people stand on long lines. Voters can still also, if they like, order food; the bill doesn’t stop the Domino’s Pizza man or the local hot dog cart or taco truck from doing business. And if you feel impelled to donate food and drink to voters, you can still do that, too; you just have to give it to the poll workers so they can put it out for general use. The president’s claim that “You can’t provide water for people about to vote” is just false. What you cannot do under the new Georgia law is deploy people in National Rifle Association t-shirts and MAGA hats to hand out free Koch-brothers-financed, Federalist Society–branded pizza to voters.

In other words, this entire controversy is not about people dropping dead of hunger and thirst on long voting lines at all. It’s about electioneering around the polling place by people looking to advertise that they represent a cause, and who try to influence voters by giving them free stuff. Across the country today, we already have lots of laws against this sort of thing. There is nothing wrong with Georgia trying to limit it.

While state laws vary, many other states have electioneering bans that prevent people from giving gifts to voters, approaching voters on line or in the process of voting, or wearing or displaying political messages around the polling place. Minnesota law has a broad ban on approaching voters:

No one except an election official or an individual who is waiting to register or to vote or an individual who is conducting exit polling shall stand within 100 feet of the building in which a polling place is located. Minn. Stat. § 204C.06

In 2018, the Supreme Court in Minn. Voters Alliance v. Mansky found that Minnesota had a valid basis for its ban on voters wearing any sort of political badge, button, or insignia inside a polling place. Chief Justice Roberts, noting that the majority of states had some restrictions on campaign-related clothing and accessories at the polls, explained:

We see no basis for rejecting Minnesota’s determination that some forms of advocacy should be excluded from the polling place, to set it aside as an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices. . . . Casting a vote is a weighty civic act, akin to a jury’s return of a verdict, or a representative’s vote on a piece of legislation. It is a time for choosing, not campaigning. The State may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect that distinction.

Seven Justices joined that opinion, which nonetheless found that the law entangled Minnesota too much into deciding what messages were political; the two dissenters would have upheld the law.

Montana’s law aims directly at campaigns handing out food, drink, or tobacco:

On election day, a candidate, a family member of a candidate, or a worker or volunteer for the candidate’s campaign may not distribute alcohol, tobacco, food, drink, or anything of value to a voter within a polling place or a building in which an election is being held or within 100 feet of an entrance to the building in which the polling place is located. § 13-35-211, MCA

New York makes “Furnishing money or entertainment to induce attendance at polls” a class A misdemeanor, and explicitly includes handing out “meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision” unless it is worth less than a dollar and the person providing it is not identified:

Any person who…in respect of any election during the hours of voting…gives or provides, or causes to be given or provided, or shall pay, wholly or in part, for any meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision to or for any person, other than [poll workers and other voting officials], except any such meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision having a retail value of less than one dollar, which is given or provided to any person in a polling place without any identification of the person or entity supplying such provisions, is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. N.Y. Elec. Law § 17-140

Biden’s own home state of Delaware bans giving gifts or rewards to voters in presidential primary elections:

Whoever…pays, transfers or delivers, or offers…any money, or other valuable thing as a compensation, inducement or reward for the giving or withholding or in any manner influencing the giving or withholding a vote…shall be fined not less than $100 nor more than $5,000 or imprisoned not less than 1 month nor more than 3 years, or both. 15 Del. C. § 3167

Laws of these sorts have been the product of experience. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Kentucky, in Ellis v. Meeks, threw out the results of a primary election where the winner, Meeks (who prevailed by eight votes) had handed out free food at the polling place, and made it available to voters. The court rejected the argument that this was all harmless because there was no direct evidence that he had changed any votes or had demanded any explicit quid pro quo from voters:

At ten of the fifteen voting stations in the 11th Ward, Meeks made free food available to anyone present, glad-handed voters as they entered, and spoke with voters as they signed in to vote. Based upon this evidence, we… hold that Meeks’ non-verbal conduct solicited votes and amounted to electioneering within 500 feet of a building where votes were being cast…We can conceive of no other explanation for his actions…. We find that making free food available to precinct workers and voters was an item of value offered by Meeks in exchange for their votes or moral support in violation of [Kentucky law].

Georgia’s law follows the same line of reasoning: The obvious motive of showing up to hand things directly to voters, rather than just providing them to poll workers to distribute, is to influence their votes.

Once upon a time, American elections were different; we had no secret ballot, and openly bribing voters was considered a standard part of democracy. George Washington famously handed out whiskey on voting day when he ran for the House of Burgesses, and so did most everybody else in his era. But our laws have cracked down on those tactics for a reason.

Is there a problem with voters standing on long lines to vote? Yes, there is, and it tends to fall more heavily on black voters. But unfortunately, in states such as Georgia, the problem of long lines is largely under the control of local Democratic officials rather than the Republicans who run the state, who nonetheless get all the blame from the national media.

While you would not learn this from the Democrats or their sympathetic media coverage, S.B. 202 actually takes steps to fix those long lines. Georgia law previously allowed the state to override local election officials and require them to add more precincts or voting machines if people were left standing on line for an hour after the polls closed. S.B. 202 expands that authority, so that the state can step in and require more polling places or voting machines if voters in overcrowded precincts face lines of an hour or more at any of three measured intervals during the day. Read the new section for yourself:

If, at the previous general election, a precinct contained more than 2,000 electors and if [voters] desiring to vote on the day of the election had to wait in line for more than one hour before checking in to vote, the superintendent shall either reduce the size of such precinct so that it shall contain not more than 2,000 electors…or provide additional voting equipment or poll workers, or both, before the next general election….The chief manager of a precinct which contained more than 2,000 electors at the previous general election shall submit a report thereof to the superintendent of the reported time from entering the line to checking in to vote. Such wait time shall be measured no fewer than three different times throughout the day (in the morning, at midday, and prior to the close of polls) and such results shall be recorded on a form provided by the Secretary of State.

This is the right direction: Instead of allowing electioneering while people wait on long lines, eliminate both the electioneering and the lines. That’s what Joe Biden’s ranting is supposed to distract you from hearing.

This article has been edited since publication for clarification of the New York statute and correct the description of the holding in Minsky.


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