WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Aug. 18, a federal judge denied a request to temporarily block the line-warming ban in Georgia’s Senate Bill 202, an omnibus voter suppression law enacted in 2021. Multiple sets of plaintiffs challenging the law filed motions asking the court for a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the provision that bans volunteers from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line at the polls. In denying this preliminary injunction, one of S.B. 202’s most contentious provisions will remain in effect for this fall’s elections.
In one of the motions for a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs state that voters in Georgia, specifically Black voters and voters of color, face some of the longest lines to vote in the country. Because of this, groups (such as the plaintiffs in this case) offer food and water to voters waiting in long lines to provide nonpartisan support. The plaintiffs argue that S.B. 202’s line-warming ban criminalizes speech and expression that are protected under the First Amendment.
In the order denying relief, the judge notes the difference between the “buffer zone” and the “supplemental zone” around a polling location. The buffer zone refers to the area “150 feet from the outer edge” of the polling place and the supplemental zone refers to the area within “25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.” While the judge concludes that the line-warming ban is appropriate within the buffer zone because it’s a “constitutional regulation of expressive conduct,” he finds that banning line warming in the supplemental zone is “unreasonable and significantly impinges on Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.” However, even though the judge found that the plaintiffs have shown that the line-warming ban within the supplemental zone is likely unconstitutional and they met all the standard requirements for a preliminary injunction, he declined to block the ban as to the supplemental zone due to the Purcell principle. Citing this principle, which is based on the idea that courts should not change voting or election rules too close to an election in order to avoid confusion for voters and election officials alike, the judge concludes that changing any voting-related rules this close to the fall elections would cause confusion for voters and election officials. In further support of this conclusion, the judge cites Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s non-binding concurrence in the shadow docket order in Merrill v. Milligan that reinstated Alabama’s congressional map for the 2022 election cycle. As a result of today’s decision, volunteers will not be able to hand out food and water to voters waiting in long lines that historically have a disproportionate impact on Black voters and voters of color in Georgia.