Voting rights groups asked a judge on Monday to block a provision of a new Georgia law that is not necessarily the most consequential, but one that has certainly attracted the most outrage: a ban on handing out food and water to voters waiting in line.
The ban is just one piece of a 98-page bill containing dozens of changes to state voting law, including shortening the time to request a mail ballot, rolling back the pandemic-driven expansion of ballot drop boxes, and reducing early voting before runoff elections.
But it is perhaps the easiest to understand and one that critics call especially punitive. The groups argued that it illegally infringes on their free speech rights and should be blocked immediately, even before any broader case challenging other areas of the law goes to trial.
U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee didn't immediately rule on the request for a preliminary injunction.
Lawyers for the state described the provision as a "bright line" drawn to prevent circus-like conditions around polling places that could spur concerns over the possibility of illegal campaigning or vote-buying. But former Richmond County elections director Lynn Bailey called the measure "harsh."
The U.S. Justice Department has also sued trying to overturn Senate Bill 202, arguing that it's racially discriminatory, but it was not among the groups seeking an injunction Monday.
The hearing came just months before the narrowly politically divided state holds highly contested elections in November. Democrat Stacey Abrams is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, while Republican Herschel Walker is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The state argued that it's too late, under earlier court decisions, for Boulee to make changes to the November election. The plaintiffs cited multiple examples of when changes were made up to the eve of elections.
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