The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans’ blunder on voting rights

People wait to vote outside the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga., on the first day of advance voting in the state's Senate runoff elections, Dec. 14, 2020. (Michael Holahan/AP)

It was a blunder, a gratuitous act that revealed not only their animus toward democracy but their lack of simple human decency. Among the various measures in the Georgia bill seeking to roll back access to voting, which passed last week, Republicans threw in a provision to ban anyone from giving water or snacks to people standing in line to vote.

Of course, Republicans apparently were not concerned as to why voters — especially in African American neighborhoods — would be forced to wait hours in line to exercise the right to vote. After all, in White neighborhoods, waiting times are considerably less. No, what galled them is that anyone should try to make their wait less torturous by offering them water. That, they could not tolerate.

It was a political error born of Republicans’ own arrogance and inhumanity. And it may cost them greatly in the battle over voting rights. President Biden picked up on it immediately. At his news conference on Thursday, he declared, “What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick.” The provision he mentioned first was that “you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote.”

Democrats criticized a Republican-led effort to restrict voting in Georgia on March 28, while Republicans slammed attempts to alter the Senate filibuster. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

On Friday, he hit the same point. “It’s an atrocity … that has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency.” He went on: “You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive design to keep people from voting. You can’t provide water for people about to vote? Give me a break.”

A lawsuit filed Thursday by the New Georgia Project , the Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Inc., alleges the law “is clearly intended to and will have the effect of making it harder for lawful Georgia voters to participate in the State’s elections. And it will impose these unjustifiable burdens disproportionately on the State’s minority, young, poor, and disabled citizens.”

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The water provision is mean-spirited and blatantly punitive, instantly recognizable as a Jim Crow tactic designed to make people miserable simply because they are living in a neighborhood (most likely a minority neighborhood) where voting authorities have already tried to discourage voting by deploying old machines and limiting polling places. (“A recent study found that the average wait time in Georgia after polls were scheduled to close was six minutes in neighborhoods that were at least 90% white, and 51 minutes in places that were at least 90% nonwhite,” according to the complaint.) If there were ever a way to get White Americans up in arms about rules that primarily affect Black and Hispanic voters, this is it.

Moreover, like the rest of the anti-voting provisions, this one obviously has nothing to do with increasing confidence in elections or making voting more secure. It affects people already voting in person who will have to comply with voter-ID requirements once they make it to the front of the line.

Certainly, none of the other measures in the Georgia statute — such as increasing ID requirements for absentee voting, shortening the time to return absentee ballots, banning mobile voting places or limiting drop boxes — have anything to do with security, either. Georgia just ran the cleanest and most accurate election imaginable, one that withstood multiple audits. None of these provisions will make an already-secure system more secure; they will simply limit access to voting with provisions that disproportionately fall on non-White voters.

As the voting-rights groups’ complaint states:

The Bill’s supporters also claim that it will “ensure” election integrity. But legislators and the Secretary himself have admitted that Georgia’s elections are already safe and secure. The Secretary has described the state’s election administration system as the “gold standard” for the United States. At no point during the 2020 election cycle did any elections official, any lawsuit, or any voter reveal anything in Georgia’s election administration requiring any of the measures in the Voter Suppression Bill to “ensure” election integrity. Notably, this was not for want of trying.

In the effort to show the law has nothing to do with voting security, Exhibit A may be the water provision. It would be the best sort of political karma if the meanest, most inhumane provision in the new law were its political and legal undoing.

Read more:

Michelle Au: Georgia Republicans were quiet about their attack on voting rights, but, oh, did they laugh

The Post’s View: Georgia Republicans’ ban on giving voters water epitomizes the GOP’s disturbing priorities

Greg Sargent: A scorching reply to Georgia’s vile new voting law unmasks a big GOP lie

Ruth Marcus: Georgia’s shameful new voting laws are a product of GOP desperation

Jennifer Rubin: States that pass Jim Crow-style voting laws will feel the backlash