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Criminalizing Voting Line Relief Among New Election Penalties

During 2020 election voting, Rhonda Briggins and her sorority sisters spent days providing voters in metro Atlanta with water and snacks as they waited in long lines at polling places. The lines for early voting and on Election Day at times stretched on for hours. As the national co-chair for social action of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority for Black women, Briggins felt compelled to help. She and her sisters unofficially adopted one DeKalb County location where many elderly Georgians cast their ballots. “When you’re a senior or someone with an infant child, line relief is very critical,” she said. “It allows someone to not have to suffer just because they want to exercise their right to vote.” If Briggins tries to do the same in November, she could face criminal charges. In March 2021, four months after former President Trump claimed that voter fraud cost him the state’s electoral votes and the presidency, Georgia’s Republican governor signed a law criminalizing people who give food or drinks to voters waiting at the polls, Governing.com reports.

Georgia was not alone. Other states have passed new laws that give the green light to prosecutors to treat like criminals all kinds of people involved in the election process, whether they are voters, election officials or third parties that assist voters. Since the 2020 election, 26 states have enacted, expanded, or increased the severity of 120 election-related criminal penalties, according to an analysis by States Newsroom of state legislation and data from the Voting Rights Lab. Of those new penalties, 102 of them — the vast majority — were enacted in 18 Republican-controlled states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. In Oklahoma, for example, voters who apply to receive a blind-accessible ballot electronically but are not blind are now committing a felony. And in Texas, it’s a felony for an election official to solicit the submission of a mail ballot application by a person who did not request one.