Sen. Jon Ossoff introduces bill to give voters more access to water in line

Georgia law makes it illegal for bystanders to pass out refreshments to people waiting in line at a voting precinct, but legislation introduced by a U.S. senator from Georgia seeks to change that.

Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, announced Monday he is introducing legislation that would allow non-partisan bystanders to distribute refreshments to people waiting in line at a voting precinct. 

Ossoff said the bill is in the best interest of elderly or disabled people spending a long time in line.

EXPLAINER: What is in Georgia's new election law?

"To criminalize a good Samaritan, a non-partisan volunteer, providing a bottle of water to a voter — who may be elderly, who may be disabled, who may have mobility challenges — who's being made to wait hours in line outside of a polling place is wrong," Ossoff said. "That's why this legislation that I'm introducing today will protect that act to ensure that Georgia voters, if they are made to wait in line to vote, would be able to receive, for example, a bottle of water from a non-partisan, good Samaritan volunteer at a polling place in Georgia."

Under the introduced legislation, volunteers could legally provide food and water as long as they are not engaging in political activity. Ossoff is a member of the Senate Judiciary and Rules committees. 

Georgia's Election Integrity Act of 2021 states no person shall offer or give money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink "to an elector within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of someone waiting in line." 

Gov. Brian Kemp has said refreshments are not completely illegal and the measure provides one of several reasonable mechanical fixes to elections in Georgia. 

"Yes, water can be provided to those waiting in line — by election workers," Kemp said. "We are not going to allow political organizations or anyone else to harass or electioneer voters inside the 150-foot buffer."

Polling places would be able to set up self-serve water dispensers for voters, he said.

This particular section of the law has sparked controversy since long lines during the 2020 primary in Georgia generated concerns leading up to the 2020 general election

Georgia's law includes language that requires election superintendents to address check-in waiting periods that exceed one hour by reducing the size of the precinct or providing more equipment and workers before the following general election. 

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