WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Aug. 18, a federal judge temporarily blocked provisions of Georgia’s omnibus 2021 voter suppression law Senate Bill 202.
One of the now-blocked provisions required election officials to reject a voter’s absentee ballot if the birth date written on an outer ballot envelope did not match the birth date listed in a voter’s registration record. The other provision prohibited individuals from handing out food and water within 25 feet of a voter standing in line — even if the voter was further than 150 feet from a polling place — and imposed criminal penalties on those who violated this rule. This practice is known as “line warming.”
Today’s voting rights victory stems from a consolidated federal lawsuit filed by a coalition of civil and voting rights organizations challenging S.B. 202’s numerous anti-voting provisions. In the order blocking S.B. 202’s birth date matching provision, Judge J.P. Boulee of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia specifically held that the requirement likely violates the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against disenfranchisement on the basis of trivial errors that are unrelated to a voter’s eligibility.
“Ultimately, these uncontroverted facts show that a voter’s ability to correctly provide his or her birthdate on the outer envelope of an absentee ballot is not material to determining that voter’s qualifications under Georgia law,” the order reads. Boulee’s decision noted that two other federal judges in Georgia previously blocked a similar birth date matching requirement for violating the Materiality Provision.
In a separate order issued shortly after the ruling on the birth date matching provision, Boulee ruled that the criminal ban on handing out food and water within 25 feet of voters likely violates the First Amendment. As a result of the order, individuals can now give food and water to voters waiting in line so long as they are further than 150 feet from a polling place.
This order resulted from a set of renewed requests by certain plaintiff groups to block the provision. Previously, Boulee denied the plaintiffs’ request to block the line-warming provision ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, holding that it was too close to Election Day to change voting-related rules under a legal concept known as the Purcell principle. However, in stark contrast to his August 2022 order, Boulee found in today’s order that “Purcell does not apply here” since “the earliest elections in Georgia are over six months away.”
In explaining why the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims seeking to block the line-warming ban, Boulee referenced evidence provided by the plaintiffs regarding wait times on the Friday before the December 2022 runoff election: “On that day, all of Fulton County’s twenty-four voting locations had a line of at least thirty minutes, and twenty-one had lines over one hour.”
As a result of today’s court victories blocking both the birth date matching requirement and the line-warming ban, Georgia voters will no longer be subject to S.B. 202’s unnecessarily burdensome requirements that increased the likelihood of disenfranchisement for both in-person and absentee voters.
Correction: This article was corrected at 5:48 p.m. to more specifically reflect the area in which the now-blocked line-warming ban applied. The article previously reported that the line-warming ban applied to voters beyond 150 feet of a polling place. It now states that the ban prohibited individuals from handing out food and water within 25 feet of a voter standing in line even if the voter was further than 150 feet from a polling place.