Bill would put a halt to Pizza to the Polls

Proposed legislation would prohibit handing out slices of pizza to people waiting in line to vote. Photo by Paulette Jordan

Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would overhaul aspects of the state’s election system, including prohibiting handing out food, water or anything else to voters near a polling place.

House Bill 7041 would make it a misdemeanor to hand out water — or anything else — to voters waiting in line, mirroring a ban enacted in Georgia as Republicans move to outlaw what is a fairly common practice in the South.

For years, campaigns and other groups have distributed water, sent food trucks and had pizza delivered to voters waiting in long lines to cast a ballot.

Pizza to the Polls, a nonpartisan grassroots organization, sent 2,068 pizzas to voters casting their ballots in 19 states around the country in the 2020 election. Areas such as Tampa benefited significantly from this.

The bill significantly broadens what is considered illegal solicitation in Florida, making the act of “giving or attempting to give any item” illegal, regardless of whether the item is political in nature or not. The only exception would be if they are 150 feet away from the door of a polling place.

“When you give something of value to a voter, especially if you’re a candidate, and you’re handing out something of value to someone in line, I think those people are more apt to think about voting for you,” said Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican from Hernando County, is a sponsor of the bill.

Ingoglia and Tallahassee Republicans argue that the bill is not intended to limit voters’ access to the ballot box or reduce the inclination of minority communities to go vote.

However, Florida Democrats argue that is exactly what it does.

“Voters trust the elections system. This would cancel all of that,” said Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis.

“We have to fight voter suppression everywhere in blue states, red states and purple states,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried tweeted Monday,mentioning the bill.

Georgia enacted a similar restriction when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill of wide-ranging new voting rules into law.

But the ban in Georgia has also ignited outrage among voting rights advocates, who say that passing out food or water to people helps keep them in the voting line. They point to the Georgia primaries last summer, which saw hours-long lines, especially in the predominantly Democratic Atlanta area. 

President Biden has criticized the Georgia law by calling it outrageousand Jim Crow in the 21st century.

“If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they pass a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote,” Biden said.