I heard the same thing about the controversial new Georgia voting law (the "Election Integrity Act of 2021") that most of you probably have – that it criminalizes giving water to people waiting in line to vote. That part is what many in the media seem to want to focus on. Taken out of context, it definitely sounds like the GOP carrying vote suppression to an utterly petty level.
Then I read what that part of the legislation, which applies within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of any voter at a polling place, actually says:
"No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector."
You remember Brad Raffensperger? The Republican secretary of state in Georgia who defended the integrity of the election results that showed Biden winning the poll in that state and resisted pressure from the president when Trump phoned him and asked him to "find" over 11,000 votes? Well, Raffensperger promised last year that the state would crack down on "line warming," or handing gifts to people waiting in line to vote as a way to "inappropriately influence voters in the crucial final moments before they cast their ballots."
So yeah, Republicans trying to suppress the vote, and Republicans trying to stop shenanigans by their opponents – the two go hand in hand, one providing cover for the other. But the deeper truth is that both sides are trying to rig the system in their favor as best they can. Certain voters in certain areas are generally presumed (with lots of evidence) to be likely Democrat voters. The Republican Party is trying to reduce voter turnout in these areas by making it more difficult to vote, while the Democratic Party is trying to increase voter turnout in these same areas by, among other things, bribing voters. The media mostly understands the first half of this dynamic, and reports it as such, but ignores or misses the flip side of the coin. Free water and snacks may not seem like much of an incentive to vote, but if someone's on the fence, a little detail like that can make a difference. And in a tight race, every bit of turnout matters.
Again, both halves of the establishment are trying to rig the game in their favor, they just have different ways of trying to cheat. And don't think for a minute that this is just about whether people waiting to vote can be given water. That's just media spin. The real question is whether anything of value can be used to lure people to the polls. If gifts of bottled water are allowed, it won't stop there; the envelope will be pushed. Democratic operatives will supply as many inducements to vote in areas and among populations where the vote tends to swing their way as they legally (and sometimes maybe illegally) can – snacks, sandwiches, whole chickens, tote bags, gift certificates, etc., so that more of "their" people will make it to the polls.
Don't get me wrong though – I oppose this Georgia law. Attempting to influence voters should not be criminalized, regardless of whether the lobbying occurs right before they vote or at some other time. Ditto for vote-buying. Your vote belongs to you, and true ownership isn't only about the right of use, it's also the right to transfer the thing in question to another person or group of your choosing. If you can't sell your vote, in a sense it's not really yours.
Politicians and election commentators seldom acknowledge this, but – especially for someone trying to make ends meet – getting the equivalent of $5 (about the price of a bottled water and a snack) or $20 or $50 or whatever from somebody hoping you'll vote the way they want you to, may have more of a direct, positive impact on your life than any votes you as one individual cast in the voting booth.
For some people, a decision to sell their vote (or to receive something of value, however slight, from someone seeking to influence how they cast it) might be not only rational, but a more honest reflection of their values and priorities than any selection available to them on the ballot, and thus a more legitimate expression of democracy.
Only let's call it what it is, and not pretend this latest hullabaloo is motivated by a sudden humanitarian concern for grandma's physical nourishment while waiting in line to vote, from people who never showed any similar interest in her well-being when she was waiting in line at the DMV, or sitting around at court after being called for jury duty.
Attempted vote-buying is nothing new. The reason many people vote for the politicians they do in the first place is because the pols promise free stuff. If they're allowed to get votes by promising "free" health care, "free" education, "free" border walls, "free" Covid relief checks, etc., after they're elected, why shouldn't they be allowed to get votes by handing out freebies before the vote, and using their own resources to pay for them, instead of stolen tax money? That way voters have a chance to get something concrete, in advance, that is at least a bit more ethically sourced, and they don't have to just rely on politicians' promises. It would be an effective way of transferring money from the rich (big money donors) to the poor (low-income and minority voters) without coercion and without government taking the lion's share before the money gets to those for whom it's purportedly intended.
If you're recoiling in horror from the idea of buying and selling votes, you can rest easy. It's about as likely to become law any time soon, as the Biden administration is to be fiscally responsible. Please direct your outrage toward the practices already in place now that tilt the political field in favor of the well-heeled. Like shutting less deep-pocketed alternative party candidates out of debates, not allowing voters to register with their parties in many states, and charging outrageous filing fees just to get on the ballot or have a candidate statement. When I ran for State Assembly last year, no statement appeared by my name in the voter information pamphlet, because they wanted to charge me $1572.00 to print one. But of course voters reading the pamphlet weren't informed of that reason; all they saw was a blank space, giving the impression that I just didn't care enough to write anything. Just one of the dirty little tactics of the 2-party duopoly cartel.