— By BROOKE CONRAD, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Friday, April 2nd 2021 —
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger expressed support for several provisions in Georgia’s controversial new election law, including restrictions on food and water at polling places.
This isn’t the first time Georgia has restricted so-called “politicking” at the polls, Raffensperger said. Georgia law previously prohibited such activities within 150 feet of a polling place, including distribution of campaign literature and solicitation of petition signatures.
“That was really well defined. Both parties understood that,” he told Sinclair.
During the last election cycle, Raffensperger said some campaigns “bent the rules” by giving water to people within the 150-foot line.
“Really, in effect, what they were doing was politicking — to get their last little shot in about ‘Please make sure you vote’ for whoever that candidate was,” said Raffensperger.
The new voting law, S.B. 202, still explicitly allows poll workers to provide water at self-service stations for people standing in line. Raffensperger noted campaign staff could hand out water themselves as long as they remain outside the specified boundary lines — 150 feet from the polling place and 25 feet from any voter standing in line.
“Let people vote, vote their conscience, and without any undue pressure put on them,” Raffensperger said.
Georgia is not the only state with restrictions on political activities near the polls. Every state has some version, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That includes limitations on sign-display and campaign literature distribution, or even restrictions on what clothing voters are allowed to wear in the polling place.
Raffensperger’s office said the wait times improved between the primary and general elections, with some exceptions, and Raffensperger said the lines “will not be growing any longer” under the new election law. On Election Day 2020, he said the average afternoon wait-time was two minutes statewide.
The counties are responsible for running elections, Raffensperger’s office said, but the office has encouraged counties to open more polling locations and has provided them with data to organize the voting better.
“We’ve really been working hard with the counties, giving them valuable information about how many voters they had registered in the precinct, what the through-put was per machine, so that they can then say, ‘I need more machines, or I need to bust this precinct in half, so I don’t have quite so many voters,’” Raffensperger said.
S.B. 202 also reforms early voting. The bill originally included a provision to cut early voting on Sundays, a measure some said was racially motivated and would interfere with “souls to the polls” Sunday voting drives among Black voters.
But that provision didn’t end up in the bill’s final version. Instead, the bill expands early voting for most counties, adding a mandatory Saturday and providing two optional Sundays.
“I am grateful that the General Assembly actually expanded weekend voting,” Raffensperger said. “I think that’s a good thing. I would not have supported taking away Sunday voting.”