WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Brooklyn Branch of the NAACP against various New York election officials challenging the state’s line-warming ban, which prohibits nonpartisan groups from providing food and drink to individuals waiting in line to vote. The complaint alleges that this law violates the First and 14th Amendments and asks the court to block its enforcement.
The complaint highlights New York’s history of long wait times at the polls, also pointing out that communities with large Black, brown and elderly populations face disproportionately longer wait times than predominantly white areas. With the line warming ban in effect, volunteers and nonpartisan organizations are prohibited from providing meals, snacks or water to those spending long periods of time standing in line at the polls. The suit argues that this blanket prohibition on line warming violates the First and 14th Amendments because the law criminalizes protected free speech, burdening the plaintiff’s right to participate in the political process, and it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. The only narrow exception to the ban as it relates to supporting voters allows the distribution of an item that is “provided inside a polling place, has a value of less than one dollar, and is provided anonymously” — a confusing rule that the suit alleges is similarly unconstitutional. The plaintiff argues that, if the line-warming ban remains in effect, it “will make it harder—and, in some cases, impossible—for the elderly, disabled, minorities, and poorer communities to exercise their right to vote. Plaintiff aims only to lighten that load, in recognition of the burdens faced by New York’s in-person voters, by providing free food and drink in an expression of solidarity with voters who brave long lines and the elements to be heard.”