voting rights

Why Are Republicans Promoting Gratuitously Cruel Election Restrictions?

Food trucks unaffiliated with any campaign distribute pizza and sandwiches to voters standing in line in Chicago. Photo: Alex Garcia/AP/Shutterstock

Of all the numerous potholes on the path to the ballot box that Georgia Republicans dug in their recent “election security” legislation, one of the oddest, which has earned its sponsors much criticism (from the president of the United States, among others) is a ban on anyone giving food or water to citizens standing in line to vote. It seems gratuitously cruel, particularly given Georgia’s reputation for long voting lines during both early voting and on Election Day, especially in large urban precincts that skew heavily Black and Democratic. Defenders of Georgia’s new law argue that it only bans campaigns from bribing voters with food and drink and encourages poll workers to provide water. But a very close neutral analysis of the provision makes it clear that, at most, it allows for the establishment of unattended “self-service” water containers but doesn’t mandate them or make them necessarily convenient.

It’s precisely the perception that it will negatively affect one party’s voters more than the other’s that may be fueling such new laws. (Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature is considering a similar restriction.) Whether or not hungry or thirsty voters in long lines will grow discouraged and go home, Republicans seem to think they may, and the alleged boost to the GOP’s election results is all the rationale that’s needed.

Indeed, before the latest session of the Georgia General Assembly, Republican secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had been warning about food and water distribution in Georgia’s January 5 runoffs, arguing (erroneously, I believe) that existing laws aimed at keeping campaigns or other political organizations from rewarding voters with food or drink after they voted could be interpreted as creating a no-consumption zone around polling places. That is presumably why the hateful language found its way into Republican legislation — to make sure the hunger and thirst of Black and Democratic voters in places like metro Atlanta were not being slaked.

It’s notable that neither Raffensperger’s warning nor the new legislation distinguishes between food-and-water distribution by campaigns or advocacy groups and those sponsored by food purveyors as a charitable activity, like the Pizza to the Polls initiative sponsored by Uber Eats and some of its restaurant partners. The problem wasn’t the particular provenance of the distribution, it seems, but the spectacle of those people enjoying a slice or a sandwich while standing in line to eject good, solid Republicans from office. To the extent that the current wave of voter-suppression laws is motivated not by documented “voter fraud” concerns but simply by a desire to placate Republican voters who are upset about the outcome of the 2020 elections (whether or not they believe in “stolen election” conspiracy theories), then obviously cruel provisions work just fine.

That’s what Greg Sargent of the Washington Post has concluded: “[W]hat’s remarkable is the open embrace of such gratuitous, mustache-twiddling tactics … They say such laws will restore voter ‘confidence,’ which was supposedly shaken by the widespread belief that the 2020 results were illegitimate.”

If so, we have entered a truly dangerous phase of circular reasoning, in which the need for Republican “voter confidence” becomes the self-evident rationale for openly partisan restrictions on Democratic voters. It’s bad enough that the Trump wing of the GOP is advocating a crackdown on voting rights, but it’s alarming that Raffensperger, soon to be purged in a 2022 primary for refusing to accept the “stolen election” hypothesis, shares his intraparty enemies’ desire to make voting a miserable experience for the minority voters who happen to be Democrats. Indeed, voter suppression may have become the one essential unifying principle of the Party of Lincoln.

Why Are Republicans Promoting Cruel Election Restrictions?