We recently discussed the false statement made repeatedly by President Joe Biden about the Georgia election law, which Biden has called “Jim Crow on steroids.” Biden falsely claims that the law closes polling places earlier, a claim that even the Washington Post decried as false. Biden has not only repeated his earlier false claim but added a new one in supporting a boycott of the state of Georgia by Major League Baseball. It is a common false claim made about denying water under the law to people standing in line to vote. What is astonishing is that the media itself has fueled this false narrative and it is being used as a key claim in boycotting the state.
During an interview on ESPN, Biden again declared the law as “Jim Crow on steroids” and added:
“I think that today’s professional athletes are acting incredibly responsibly. I would strongly support them doing that. People look to them, they’re leaders. Look at what’s happened with the NBA as well. Look at what’s happened across the board. The people who’ve been victimized the most are the people who are the leaders in these various sports and it’s just not right. Imagine passing a law saying you cannot provide water or food for someone standing in line to vote, can’t do that? C’mon! Or you’re going to close a polling place at 5 o’clock when working people just get off? This is all about keeping working folks and ordinary folks that I grew up with from being able to vote.”
Indeed, it is hard to “imagine” because it is not true and the White House knows that it is not true. If a president is going to accuse a state of passing a Jim Crow law (let alone supporting a boycott), there is an expectation of a modicum of accuracy and fairness. Otherwise, it degrades not just the movement for voting rights but the Office of the Presidency itself.
I will not repeat the clearly false claim about closing polling places early. As the Washington Post noted (and repeated after this latest interview), “the net effect [of the Georgia law] is … to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them.” The use of the provision to suggest a reduction in voting hours was a knowing misrepresentation by those seeking to justify the federalization of election laws in Congress. Despite being called out on the false statement, President Biden continues to repeat it.
The water claim is equally disingenuous and false. The law does not prevent people from giving water to those standing in line. The law allows “self-service water from an unattended receptacle” for voters waiting in line. It also allows anyone to give water or food to any voters outside of limited area around the polling place.
It is common to bar any political campaigning or activities within a certain number of feet (often 150 feet — or a shorter distance from any line extending beyond that area).
Here is the provision:
“(a) 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, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast
(1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is
(2) Within any polling place; or
(3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.”
The bill then allows for “self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote.” It also does not limit any poll workers from supplying water to voters.
Georgia officials said that the impetus for the rule was that various political organizations in 2019 circumvented the no politicking rule by handing out food and water with actual food trucks set up for this purpose. The rule is designed to close that loophole. If campaigns or others are really concerned with just getting water to voters, they can still do so. They simply cannot take credit for it or directly engage voters in the limited area next to polling places.
Even Politifact (which as been criticized by conservatives for bias) recognized the water can be given to voters while finding that it is untrue that only political organizations are barred. Politifact also acknowledges that water can be supplied within the protected area of the polling place.
None of that has stopped the reckless rhetoric. Vanderbilt University Professor Michael Eric Dyson joined MSNBC’s host Joy Reid in pushing this false narrative in pushing for the federalization of election laws and added “These are the kind of people that would pass a law to keep Jesus from getting a cup of water while he’s dying on the cross.” Actually, if Jesus was voting from the cross, he would have ample water availability under the law though it would seem a stronger case for absentee voting under Georgia law.
So why would there be such outrage if the interest is only the comfort of voters? As long as you do not seek to have direct campaign contacts with voters at polling places, you can supply as much water as you want either just before the protected area or through apolitical open receptacles.
The level of misrepresentation of these provisions in the media has been chilling. The narrative has overwhelmed the news on the factual basis of these claims.
This column was updated.