Current Georgia state law makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in prison for nonpartisan volunteers to provide water to voters in line
Washington, DC. — Yesterday, Georgia’s U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock introduced the Voters’ Access to Water Act, voting rights legislation that protects voters’ access to water when they are made to wait in line outside polling places.
Earlier this year, Georgia’s GOP-controlled state legislature passed and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law SB 202, a provision of which makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail for nonpartisan volunteers to provide bottled water for voters in line outside of polling places.
In 2018 and 2020, thousands of Georgia voters have been made to wait in line for many hours — sometimes as many as ten hours — in order to vote.
The Voters’ Access to Water Act would prohibit states from banning the provision of food or water to voters waiting in line as long as volunteers providing food or water do not engage in campaigning or political activity and as long as water or food are offered to every voter in line.
“Georgia voters are often made to wait hours in line to vote. This bill will ensure a nonpartisan, Good Samaritan volunteer can offer voters in line a bottle of water without fear of criminal prosecution,” Senator Ossoff said.
“Voting rights are preservative of all other rights. We must do everything in our power to expand access to the ballot box, and eliminate any and all barriers that will make it harder for voters in Georgia and nationwide to make their voices heard,” Senator Warnock said. “The Voters’ Access to Water Act gets us closer to that goal, and I’m proud to work with Senator Ossoff to get this important legislation, along with the critical For the People Act, over the finish line.”
“Republican legislators have sought to criminalize showing compassion to voters in long lines, which are disproportionately comprised of voters of color. Federal action is necessary to combat this cruelty, and Senator Ossoff – along with Congresswoman Nikema Williams in the House of Representatives – are fighting to make sure that voters who are forced to stand in long lines can at least be handed a bottle of water or a snack. Fair Fight Action is proud to support this legislation, and I am proud that Georgia’s Democratic Congressional delegation is leading to protect access to the ballot box for all eligible Americans,” said Stacey Abrams, Founder of Fair Fight Action.
Aiyana Cottman, from Atlanta, Georgia, waited nearly four hours to vote in 2020. While waiting, she experienced nonpartisan volunteers offering water to those who were waiting, and her experience that day inspired her to sign-up to be a poll worker.
“No voter should be made to wait hours in line to vote,” Cottman said. “But when long lines happen, all voters deserve access to water while they wait. To criminalize that is outrageous — and I’m grateful to Senators Ossoff and Warnock for introducing this bill.”
Jason Zwang and his wife, who live in Peoplestown, Georgia, waited a combined seven hours to vote in the June 2020 primary. While waiting, nonpartisan volunteers offered them water and food while they waited on a hot, rainy day. Now, under SB 202, those volunteers could face up to a year in prison for trying to offer that bottle of water. The Voters’ Access to Water Act would reverse that.
“As we waited in line for hours, through the rain, we were appreciative of the kind volunteers offering all of us something to drink,” Zwang said. “We saw some voters leave because of the long lines, but the offer of something to drink helped many of us wait. We thank Senators Ossoff and Warnock for this legislation to ensure all voters being made to wait have access to water.”
“It is basic decency to allow voters to receive water from nonpartisan volunteers. This year’s nationwide wave of anti-voter laws will likely lead to longer waiting times at polling places,” said Trevor Potter, President of Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and Republican former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “Senator Ossoff’s bill would protect voters in line from being forced to choose between their right to vote and their fundamental human needs. Congress should pass this bill.”
According to Georgia Public Broadcasting/ProPublica analysis, Black voters in Georgia face disproportionately longer lines than white voters.
The analysis found that after the Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, Georgia closed dozens of precincts in predominately Black neighborhoods in Georgia, creating longer lines at more crowded and more condensed precincts.
According to the study, “about two-thirds of the polling places that had to stay open late for the June  primary to accommodate waiting voters were in majority-Black neighborhoods, even though they made up only about one-third of the state’s polling places.”
Click here to find the Voters’ Access to Water Act bill text.
Click here for the Voters’ Access to Water Act fact sheet.
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