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Bill Would End Ban On Providing Food, Drink In Election Lines

Legislation has been introduced to repeal a section of election law some say serves as an impediment to voting.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, has introduced S.7382 to repeal Section 17-140 of the state Election Law, relating to furnishing money or entertainment to induce attendance at polls. Commonly known as the “line warming ban” the legislation prohibits organizations from handing out refreshments, water or other items such as PPE or hand sanitizer while individuals wait in line to vote. Anyone prosecuted under the statute is subject to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or three years’ probation and a fine of up to $1,000 if found guilty.

“New York is notorious for having incredibly long lines in select parts of the state that people wait in to vote,” Myrie wrote in his legislative justification. “Indeed, last year long lines occurred during both early voting and election day voting. This statute places an additional burden on voters and organizations by essentially prohibiting organizations from working to support voters while they may wait in line. The statute is antiquated, burdensome, vague, and potentially unconstitutional. Simply put, it does not serve a legitimate purpose in the administration of elections in our state, and as such should be repealed.”

Prohibitions on giving food and water to those standing in line to vote became a national issue earlier this year when Georgia officials passed new voting laws that included a prohibition on giving away water or food within a certain distance of voters or polling places.

New York’s law states it is prohibited to provide “meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision” to a voter at a polling place, except if the retail value is less that $1, and the person or entity providing it is not identified.”

The Georgia law, for example, makes it a crime for anyone but a poll worker to provide food or bottles of water within 150 feet of a polling place or 25 feet of any voter standing in line.

New York, Georgia and Montana are the only states with such prohibitions, though Montana’s ban applies to candidates or individuals linked to an individual’s campaign who would hand out food or water.

Advocates of the law say they are attempting to crack down on political organizations or advocacy groups trying to influence voters just before they cast a ballot. Critics say it’s cruel and would penalize even nonpartisan groups or individuals for something as simple as giving water to someone waiting in a long line. Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler slammed the proposal Thursday before the bill was signed into law, saying: “They want to make it a crime to bring Grandma some water while she’s waiting in line.”

Polling places would be able to, but not required to, set up self-serve water dispensers for voters.

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