Does Georgia's new election law really make it a crime to hand water to people standing in line to vote?

Lots of buzz about this today, and not just from lefty activists on social media.

“Georgia bans giving water to voters in line under sweeping restrictions,” reads Reuters’s headline, implausibly, about the bill Brian Kemp signed into law last night. Can that really be true?

It can. The new provision is tucked away in a section aimed at prohibiting people from bribing voters while they’re waiting to cast their ballot. Is handing a Dasani to someone who’s been in line for three hours really a gift of such magnitude that it might plausibly shift someone’s vote? The Georgia legislature seems to think so.

If you read that language closely, it doesn’t say that you need to intend to solicit someone’s vote by handing them food or water to violate the statute. It starts off by making solicitation of votes near a polling place illegal but the clause about giving food and water is independent. So if you show up with pizza and offer a slice to everyone in line, without asking them about their vote or otherwise identifying your own partisan affiliation, presumably you’ve still committed a crime. Coincidentally, or maybe not coincidentally, voters in nonwhite neighborhoods in Georgia tend to wait in line longer because there are fewer polling places in those areas. Democrats suspect the state’s Republican legislature of having added this provision precisely in order to make voting less appealing for one of their core constituencies.

There are easy enough logistical ways around the statute. One hundred fifty feet of distance isn’t terribly far. Activists could set up 200 feet away from the polling place with a stockpile of food and bottled water and a sign for voters to come and get it if they get hungry or thirsty. No one who steps out of line for 30 seconds to go get provisions during a long wait is going to be refused their place once they return, especially if they bring a bottle or two back for the people waiting behind them. It’s not, in other words, that the food-and-drink rule is a major imposition that can’t be overcome. It’s the intent behind it, a petty way by the legislature to make the process less pleasant knowing that the unpleasantness is more likely to affect Democratic base voters.

The food-and-drink rule is a small part of a sweeping bill. Other elements are more aggressive in their restrictions:

It will dramatically shorten runoff elections from nine weeks to less than a month and cut the early voting period required for runoff elections from three weeks to one week. In January, runoff elections sent Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to Washington, securing the party’s majority in the Senate…

The law will require mail-in voters to include their driver’s license numbers or other documentation to verify their identities, instead of using signature verification. Drop boxes can be located only inside election offices and early voting locations, curbing their usefulness. It also shortens the window to request absentee ballots…

The bill standardizes early voting across the state, which will likely lead to expanded early voting in many counties. But it standardizes the hours for most early voting to 9 to 5 p.m., which is likely to limit the hours in larger counties like Fulton County, which has previously offered early voting until 7 p.m.

Limiting drop boxes to polling places when the entire point of a drop box is to spare you from having to go to a polling place is an especially blatant way to try to reduce voting by mail. As for replacing signature verification on absentee ballots with ID numbers, that’s a change favored by Gabriel Sterling, the Republican election administrator who became famous last year when he and his boss, Brad Raffensperger, stood firm in defense of the integrity of Georgia’s elections. An ID number is a more objective way to verify the authenticity of a ballot than matching signatures, Sterling has pointed out. But there’s a price: “Over 200,000 Georgia voters lack a driver’s license or state ID number, meaning they will need to submit additional proof of their identities.” Not an insuperable obstacle, but an extra hoop for organizers to jump through if they want to get poorer voters registered in time for 2022.

The list at the end of this Atlanta Journal-Constitution story, or this thread by reporter Grace Panetta, will give you a broad outline of the bill in its entirety. Remember that it’s based on a false pretense, the idea that there was something dubious about the process in Georgia last November that made the outcome questionable. There wasn’t. That was propaganda, the idea that there was some “problem” — apart from the outcome — that the legislature is now duty-bound to “solve.” And speaking of which, there’s one more provision worth noting:

The bill also will allow the State Election Board to take over county election boards that it deems need intervention. Skeptics say that will allow Republican officials to decide which ballots count in majority Democratic areas, such as Fulton County.

Currently the board is chaired by the secretary of state, namely, Raffensperger, a Trump nemesis. By handing power over the board to the legislature instead, and by recruiting a more Trump-friendly candidate for secretary of state in the next election, Georgia Republicans are clearly trying to make it easier to toss out votes in 2022 and/or 2024. The last attempt to overturn an election didn’t work. The next one might.

I’ll leave you with this, which is getting attention online today. A Dem state rep took to knocking on the door of the room in which Kemp was signing the bill into law. She was arrested and charged with a felony for it.