WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, Jan. 9, the New York Senate approved Senate Bill 616, which would effectively rescind an out-of-date ban on providing food and water for voters waiting at the polls, otherwise known as a line-warming ban. When the Republican legislatures in Florida and Georgia passed large voter suppression laws in 2021, provisions that made it illegal to distribute items to voters waiting in line drew the most outrage from voting rights advocates. Though enacted years ago, New York state has a similar law on the books, one that says that, “during the hours of voting, on a day of a general, special or primary election,” no person may provide or pay for “any meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provision.” The archaic ban has limited exceptions for items with a “retail value of less than one dollar,” which is, in effect, a total ban given that almost all snacks or drinks would cost more than that. Violators are subject to criminal penalties.
In September 2021, the Brooklyn Branch of the NAACP challenged the line-warming ban as unconstitutional and litigation is ongoing. However, New York Democrats are now looking to proactively change the law. S 616 would still prohibit the provision of “any meat, drink, tobacco or provision” (it removes “refreshment”) but crucially, would have a much larger carve out. Instead of limiting the exception to items with a value less than one dollar, an individual is allowed to hand out any item with “a nominal value, including but not limited to, snacks, water, soft drinks, or other refreshments.” S 616 is now before the Election Law Committee and must pass the state Assembly before heading to the governor.