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Arkansas bill would go even further than Georgia's scandalous voter suppression law

Arkansas Republicans are on the brink of passing a new law that would make it a crime to go within 100 feet of a polling place for any purpose other than voting.

By Emily Singer - April 13, 2021
Voters line up in Little Rock, Arkansas

Passing out food and drinks to voters waiting in line to cast ballots could soon be a crime in Arkansas after the state House’s State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee advanced a bill on Monday that would criminalize giving out refreshments at polling places.

The bill is similar to one signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 26 in Georgia, which makes it a misdemeanor to give out food and drinks within 25 feet of voters waiting in line to vote.

But Arkansas’ bill takes it a step farther, making it a crime to go within 100 feet of a polling place for any purpose other than voting, according to reporting by the Arkansas Times.

According to the text of the bill, which the state Senate passed on April 1, “A person shall not enter or remain in an area within one hundred feet (100′) of the primary exterior entrance to a building where voting is taking place except for a person entering or leaving a building where voting is taking place for lawful purposes.”

The Arkansas Times reported that the lead sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Ken Hammer, feared that young people who handed out bottled water and chips to people waiting to vote might be wearing political-themed t-shirts with the aim of influencing their votes.

Arkansas Republicans are pushing forward with the bill despite the massive backlash Georgia has faced over its own voter suppression law, which in addition to criminalizing passing out refreshments at polling places also limits the use of ballot drop boxes, requires ID to vote by mail, and gives GOP state lawmakers more control over the running of elections. The law has cost Georgia as businesses abandon the state and companies vow to fight voter suppression.

Republican lawmakers who have introduced hundreds of similar bills in GOP-run state legislatures have faced criticism and opposition.

Florida Republicans had been looking to pass a bill containing a similar ban on distributing refreshments to voters waiting in lines, but removed the language after the reaction to the ban in Georgia’s law.

House Democrats introduced a bill on April 9 that would stop states from criminalizing the practice.

According to the text of the legislation, known as the Stay in Line to Vote Act, “A State may not prohibit a person from providing food or drink to individuals at a polling place in the State in an election for Federal office, including at a polling place at which individuals may cast ballots prior to the date of the election.”

Arkansas lawmakers are also considering other restrictive voting bills, including one that would slash the early voting period, eliminating the Monday before the election as a day for in-person voting and instead ending early voting at 4 p.m. on the Saturday before Election Day. Hammer is a lead sponsor of that bill as well.

Yet unlike Georgia, which trended Democratic in the 2020 election with wins by President Joe Biden and Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, Arkansas is a solidly Republican state. Donald Trump carried Arkansas by 28 points in 2020, an even greater margin than the one by which he won it in 2016.

But Republicans are still looking to clamp down on voting rights there, part of the GOP’s nationwide effort to make it harder to vote in the wake of the 2020 election.

GOP state lawmakers have introduced more than 360 voter suppression bills since the beginning of the year in response to Trump’s loss, which he blamed, without evidence, on voter fraud.

Trump and his GOP allies pushed the voter fraud lie so hard that three-quarters of Republican voters now believe it’s true.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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