After the passage of S.B. 202 in the U.S. state of Georgia, there was a lot of outcry about the provision that makes it illegal for anyone to hand out food or water at the polls (emphasis added):

No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector ...

PBS Newshour (Lisa Desjardins) interviewed Gabriel Sterling, a Georgia election official, about the new law. During the interview, he claimed that the same law is on the books in Delaware (emphasis added):

Lisa Desjardins: You know what is making headlines, of course, is this ban on handing out food and water at the polls. I understand you made the argument that, in the last election, there may have been some activists who used giving out water as an excuse to talk to voters.

First, do we know that that happened? And, second, if so, why not just enforce the campaign ban? Why eliminate giving out food and water?

Gabriel Sterling: Well, the main thing is, it's been used as a work-around to get around that law.

And the irony of this, as we looked it up, this is actually the law in the president's home state of Delaware right now. So, this is not some new thing that's been brought out. This is pretty standard across the country to avoid those kind of loopholes where people can go and campaign and try to influence voters in the line.

Is it illegal in Delaware for anyone to give food or water to an elector in line at a polling place in Delaware?

  • 1
    This might be better on Politics. Apr 5, 2021 at 14:31
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    @DJClayworth: Or Law.SE. Apr 5, 2021 at 15:46
  • There is already a question about the Georgia law on politics.
    – Joe W
    Apr 5, 2021 at 16:18
  • It seems this is a matter of interpreting the DE law. So it's probably a better Q on Law SE. Clearly one (GOP) interpretation is that's illegal, even if the DE law isn't explicit about water and only prohibits giving anything as a "reward or inducement". (And someone at WaPo thinks that's a silly way to read it so they gave "two pinnochios" [out of 4 possible] to the GOP for that. In other words, YMMV.)
    – Fizz
    Apr 5, 2021 at 18:53

2 Answers 2


The Washington Post has an article that debunks this. I wish I could provide more but the rest is behind a paywall but the title of the article should provide enough info.


States prohibit bribery at the polls — the offer of something valuable in exchange for votes. There are certainly some states that Sterling could point to as providing a basis for Georgia’s decision to prohibit providing water and food within a designated area of an election facility. But Delaware is not among them.

Delaware has a prohibition against giving “any money, or other valuable thing as a compensation, inducement or reward for the giving or withholding or in any manner influencing the giving or withholding a vote.” That’s standard anti-bribery language, similar to Georgia’s previous law. In theory, that could be food or water provided by candidate X, but that is not the same as Georgia’s new law. Georgia specifically prohibits that — unless the food or drink is first provided to election officials for general distribution to the public.

In fact, compare Montana’s language with Georgia’s language. Montana specifically ties the giving of food and water in exchange for votes. Georgia’s language is much vaguer, suggesting the prohibition of any food or drink within 150 feet of an election facility.

Meanwhile, Delaware makes no mention of food or water — just “compensation, inducement or reward.” Perhaps that could be interpreted as food or water. But that’s not the same law.

As a clever talking point, this jab falls short. Sterling said Georgia wanted to draw a “bright line,” but he can’t argue that Delaware’s line is just as bright. Sterling earns Two Pinocchios.

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    Article is behind a paywall. Please quote some relevant parts of it. Apr 5, 2021 at 18:26
  • The interesting parallel to what Sterling claims is that in Dec 2020 Raffensperger started to claim that Georgia's old law also prohibited giving food or drink to voters waiting in line... although some organizations disputed this strict interpretation. (Which apparently led to the new GA law with clearer language). So, I guess one could interpreted the DE law that way too if one wanted to... Whether that would stand in court though...
    – Fizz
    Apr 6, 2021 at 2:10
  • I'll note that savvy organizations which give away free food/water instruct their staff/volunteers that free stuff should be provided to everyone, even if they are not voting and are not in line to vote. Such policies are designed to defeat generic "no bribery for votes" statutes, but states can of course word their statutes to block/reduce this behavior, typically by establishing an exclusion zone around the polling locations (in which case organizations will operate just outside the exclusion zone).
    – Brian
    Apr 13, 2021 at 15:54

The Delaware Constitution, Article V, Section 7 says, in part:

Section 7. Every person who either in or out of the State shall receive or accept, or offer to receive or accept, or shall pay, transfer or deliver, or offer or promise to pay, transfer or deliver, or shall contribute, or offer or promise to contribute, to another to be paid or used, any money or other valuable thing as a compensation, inducement or reward for the giving or withholding, or in any manner influencing the giving or withholding, a vote at any general, special, or municipal election in this State, or at any primary election, convention or meeting held for the purpose of nominating any candidate or candidates to be voted for at such general, special or municipal election; or who either in or out of the State shall make or become directly or indirectly a party to any bet or wager depending upon the result of any such general, special, municipal or primary election or convention or meeting, or upon a vote thereat by any person; or who either in or out of the State shall, by the use or promise of money or other valuable thing, or otherwise, cause or attempt to cause any officer of election or registration officer to violate said person's official duty; or who either in or out of the State shall by the use or promise of money or other valuable thing influence or attempt to influence any person to be registered or abstain from being registered; or who, being an officer of election or registration officer, shall knowingly and wilfully violate said person's official duty; or who shall by force, threat, menace or intimidation, prevent or hinder, or attempt to prevent or hinder, any person qualified for registration from being registered or any person qualified to vote from voting according to said person's choice at any such general, special or municipal election, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than five thousand dollars, or shall be imprisoned for a term not less than one month nor more than three years, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment within said limits, at the discretion of the court; and shall further for a term of ten years next following said person's sentence, be incapable of voting at any such general, special, municipal or primary election or convention or meeting; but the penalty of disfranchisement shall not apply to any person making or being a party to any bet or wager, depending upon the result of any such general, special, municipal or primary election or convention or meeting.

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    This prohibits giving water to induce a vote. The Georgia law prohibits giving water for any (or no) reason. Or am I missing something?
    – LShaver
    Apr 5, 2021 at 15:00
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    @LShaver I agree, you would have to show that the water was "valuable" and that is was to compensate, induce, or reward. Otherwise, it's legal.
    – DavePhD
    Apr 5, 2021 at 15:19
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    How does self service water help voters who are in a long voting line? In order to access that self service water they would have to get out of line, move the location of the water and rejoin at the back of the line. With wait times that can already be considered excessive in some areas this would only make it worse.
    – Joe W
    Apr 5, 2021 at 16:16
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    So, are we supposed to play lawyer here and interpret this quote? Is your answer yes or no?
    – Fizz
    Apr 5, 2021 at 18:53
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    given that those wait times are deliberately created by election officials, why would those same officials provide water? They don't want people voting. Apr 6, 2021 at 8:08

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