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Georgia Has Limited Giving Out Water At Polling Places. What Does NC Do?

Voters wait at the Beatties Ford Road library branch in Charlotte. Part of the 9th U.S. House District is in Mecklenburg County.
Dante Miller
Mecklenburg County residents are seen waiting in line to vote early at the Beatties Ford Road library branch in Charlotte in 2020. A new Georgia law allows for people to give water to poll workers to distribute to voters waiting in line. But the law doesn't allow a third party to bring water directly to a voter.

Georgia’s new voting law has received international attention, especially for prohibiting people from handing out water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

But how does it compare with other states, including North Carolina?

Georgia’s law prohibits anyone from handing out water or food within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of someone waiting in line to vote.

People can bring their own food and water with them to vote, and the law specifically allows third-party groups to deliver bottled water to polling places. But the water must be given to poll workers, who will then distribute it on a self-serve basis.

Gerry Cohen, a former attorney for the North Carolina General Assembly, says a strict reading of the Georgia statute “would literally mean that if your grandparents were in line, you couldn’t bring them a bottle of water, or if there is someone who is in a diabetic coma, you couldn’t bring them a pack of crackers.”

A Georgia elections official, who spoke to WFAE on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go on record, said “that no one is trying to test the endurance of voters” and the intent is not to keep a family member from bringing someone water.

The official said there were instances in last year’s election in which a state legislator handed out water in his campaign T-shirt, thus prompting the change.

Georgia does have some company.

Montana prohibits people from giving out food and water on Election Day, but that’s limited to a candidate or people working for a candidate. New York bans giving out “meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision” unless the person giving it out isn’t a candidate or their employee and it’s worth less than a dollar.

North Carolina has a 50-foot buffer around polling places.

Here's what state law says: “No person or group of persons shall, while the polls are open at the voting place on the day of the primary or election, loiter about, congregate, distribute campaign material, or do any electioneering within the voting place, or within 50 feet in any direction of the entrance or entrances to the building in which the voting place is located.”

That means that, inside the 50-foot buffer, a person wearing a campaign T-shirt would not be allowed to hand out water. That would be seen as “electioneering.”

But a person with no formal ties to a candidate could likely give out water, so long as it isn’t seen as electioneering. And a family member or friend of someone standing in line could also bring someone water.

State law is more specific about who can be inside the actual polling place. That list includes poll workers, police officers and voters. It does not allow for people to hand out water.

The state does mention banning the gifting of food and drinks as part of an 1801 law governing elections to the General Assembly. It says no one involved with anyone in the legislature can give “any treat or entertainment of meat or drink” to influence their vote in the election.

Cohen said that came from a late 17th century British law.

“Candidates prior to that 1696 law of parliament would have giant banquets where they would give out meat and drink,” he said. “Think of that classic thing where the king eats the meat off a bone and throws it behind them.”

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.