Opinion: Pondering a now-illegal bottle of water in Ga.

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It's expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
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November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It's expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

The act of giving a thirsty person water has been criminalized in Georgia. The rewrite of Georgia election rules specifically bans giving folks waiting in line to vote water, food, or other small non-political comforts.

As a voter and a community activist, I can attest that this part of the law does not do anything to make our elections more secure, as Gov. Brian Kemp and his supporters say it does. What this law will do is revert us to one of the worst voting experiences in our state’s recent history. These laws do nothing more than make voting more inconvenient, uncomfortable, and unappealing — so that less people want to go through the process.

It was June 9, 2020 that I watched the Georgia election process melt down — a day of embarrassment for our state. I saw in my own community long lines in the hot Georgia sun which drove potential voters away. Our Southeast Atlanta neighbors stood in line up to six hours waiting to vote. Rather than let voters wait in misery — parched, hungry, cranky — I joined my neighbor John Gibson as we brought fresh baked cookies, bottled water, and chairs for people to sit in. Rather than let the hot, sweaty, bureaucratic mess push away potential voters, we made sure folks were comfortable and able to fulfill their civic duty.

What we did on that day will now be illegal if these new election rules stay in place.

Chris Appleton
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Chris Appleton

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

What our neighbors did was called “Line Warming,” and it’s long been a part of the elections process in our country. Campaign staffers, neighbors, and activists provide coffee, pass out rain slickers, and bring their guitars to make better what is often a rather-drab experience for voters. We had such ad hoc success in June that John, Catherine Woodling and I recruited other neighbors and formed a nonpartisan initiative called “Vote with Dignity” to ensure that the November 2020 presidential election (and the January runoffs) would be comfortable for everyone waiting in line to vote.

Many organizations like ours popped up across Georgia to make voting less a struggle and more like a community celebration. By all measures, our state turned around a creaky voting system, and brought more people to the polls than ever.

This should be celebrated, and not criminalized.

In Australia, where voting is compulsory, community groups will post up outside of voting locations and sell “Democracy Sausage.” Voting for them is a celebration of their freedom. In fact, enjoyment of the voting process is central to their cultural identity. This is something we should aspire to in our country, rather than perpetuating a system so broken that much of our citizenry actively avoids voting. So why does Gov. Kemp want to make voting for us more like waiting for a driver’s license and less like celebrating our freedoms?

It’s clear that this is not about making our elections more secure. It’s about making our elections more inconvenient so that marginalized communities show up less to the polls.

A safe and secure voting experience and an enjoyable voting experience should not be considered dueling ideals. We can and should have both. What happens outside of polling locations, as community groups like ours make the voting process smoother and more enjoyable, should be embraced as the positive, legal, community efforts they are.

We need our leaders to focus on actual voting integrity — ensuring our machines and systems are secure and reliable. Our governor and the legislators who passed this law are treating increased voter turnout as a threat to their political system, and that is something deeply shameful for them and our state. We can do better, Georgia.

We have a slogan at Vote with Dignity: “Good Neighbors, Better Elections.” I challenge our leaders to step up and join the fight. We want “Good Leaders, Better Elections,” as well.

Atlanta native Chris Appleton is CEO of Sewn Arts and co-founder of Vote with Dignity.