Florida GOP decides not to ban food and water for voters after all

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Republican lawmakers in Florida removed a provision from an election bill similar to one that caused uproar in Georgia.

Politico reported on Friday that the Florida House of Representatives Public Integrity and Elections Committee removed language from H.B. 7041, a voter suppression bill introduced by GOP lawmakers, that would have made it a crime to hand out food and drink to people within 150 feet of a polling site.

The original text of the bill included a ban on "giving or attempting to give any item; and interacting or attempting to interact with any voter"; as amended, it now bans "and engaging in any activity with the intent to influence or effect of influencing a voter."

The language was similar to a provision in the election law Georgia Republicans passed in March, which makes it a crime for anyone to give out food or drinks within 25 feet of voters waiting in line.

Georgia's law has been condemned by voting rights activists, Democrats, and major corporations, which faced pressure to condemn the law from civil rights and voting rights groups. They say Georgia's law makes it harder to vote and is based on lies about voter fraud Donald Trump and others told before and after the 2020 presidential election.

The food and drink ban was specifically condemned: The Georgia law increases the odds that voters will face longer lines to cast their ballots, and then makes it harder for those voters by forcing them to go without food and drink if they want to remain in line.

"If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency — they passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote," President Joe Biden said in March of the Georgia law. "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."

In fact, pushback against the Georgia law was so fierce that it led Major League Baseball to move its 2021 All-Star Game out of the state, and Democratic lawmakers vowed they will risk arrest to hand out drinks to voters in Georgia in protest of the new measures.

Florida state Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, who introduced the bill, told Politico that the backlash to Georgia's law did not influence his decision to remove the food and drink ban.

He said people could still be prosecuted for the practice if the bill becomes law.

"If [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis started walking up and down the line, handing out stuff to voters in line within the 150 feet, I'd dare to say your nominee would say he was trying to influence the vote," Ingoglia said.

While the provision that would ban distributing food and drinks was removed from the Florida bill, the legislation is still aimed at suppressing the vote in other ways. It requires drop boxes for absentee ballots to be monitored 24/7, either by election officials or bylaw enforcement. It would also force voters to show ID when dropping off their absentee ballots at those drop boxes.

It's one of two voter suppression laws Florida's GOP-controlled state Legislature is working on.

A second bill moving through the Florida state Senate is even more restrictive, banning ballot drop boxes altogether and shortening the amount of time voters can stay on the absentee voter list.

It's one of the hundreds of bills Republicans are seeking to pass across the country to make it harder to vote.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.