Georgia legislator fined for campaigning when he gave water to voters

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

State Rep. Roger Bruce says he didn’t break Georgia voting law

The State Election Board has levied a $250 fine against state Rep. Roger Bruce for handing out water to voters while wearing a shirt with his name on it during the 2020 election.

Bruce, a Democrat from Atlanta, agreed to the penalty to resolve the case but said he didn’t break the law.

The board cited Bruce for campaigning within 150 feet of polling places, but Bruce said he shouldn’t have been fined since handing out water and food wasn’t explicitly prohibited until the Georgia General Assembly passed new election laws in 2021.

“How do you break a law if it’s not in existence yet?” Bruce said. “If somebody is standing in line for hours in the heat so they can vote, do you think they’re going to change their vote over a glass of water? No.”

Georgia’s election law approved two years ago banned distributing refreshments to voters while they’re waiting in line, a measure supported by Republican lawmakers who said voters should be protected from outside influence. The law allows poll workers to set up self-service water receptacles.

While previous state law banned giving money or gifts to voters, it didn’t spell out whether that prohibition applied to distributing food and water. The law also prohibits soliciting votes within 150 feet of a polling location.

Bruce said he didn’t ask for anyone’s vote and had no opponent in the race when he visited three polling places on Oct. 13, 2020.

The fine against Bruce was disclosed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a request for State Election Board documents under the Georgia Open Records Act.

The State Election Board unanimously approved the fine during a meeting last month during a vote that didn’t reveal the substance of the case or Bruce’s name.

In a separate case, the board levied a $250 fine against former state legislator Matthew Wilson, a Democrat from Brookhaven, in December 2021 for handing out pizza to voters in 2018.