Law enforcement please be forewarned. If I see someone standing in a long line under a beating sun, I will offer them a bottle of water.

I couldn’t care less who they are planning to vote for. I couldn’t care less about their age, race or gender. All I will care about is they are in line to carry out a foundation block of our representative democracy. They are there to vote, and they are thirsty.

If, by some freak turn of events, it will be illegal in Wisconsin to give a thirsty voter a drink of water, I will engage in civil disobedience. It won’t be the fist time I’ve ignored certain laws and ordinances (like Sammy Hagar, I can’t drive 55, either), and it might not be the last.

It is unlikely Wisconsin will follow Georgia’s lead on this issue. Gov. Tony Evers would never sign such a bill into law, and he would probably lose his reelection bid if he did. But if he does, I’m ready to ignore that law.

Defenders of election law changes in Georgia insist their new requirements do not prohibit drinking water for voters while waiting in line. They say that Georgia is merely making sure that political groups are prevented from handing out food or water to voters standing in line as an incentive to vote. Poll workers in Georgia are allowed to make water available to anyone who wants it. Also, self-service water stands are allowed.

First of all, most states, including Wisconsin and I presume Georgia, already have laws that prohibit electioneering of any kind at or near polling places. Therefore, under existing law, if I dig out my “Barry Goldwater for President” button and wear it while handing out bottles of water to only those in line who say they are conservative and voting for only conservative candidates, I would be breaking an existing law.

I recall this existing law being enforced in a congressional race years ago in Janesville. One of the candidates draped American flags around his campaign signs during his campaign. When the election rolled around, his staff planted small American flags along sidewalks leading up to polling places. Election officials were notified and declared the placing of the flags a violation of the law. The flags were removed by midmorning.

Attempts to try to influence voters while in line to vote are taken seriously, and the existing laws are strictly enforced.

Also, leaving it up to poll workers and officials to determine who needs a drink of water can become problematic.

I happened to be in Orlando, Florida, on Election Day in 2012 (and if you’re wondering, yes, I voted early in Wisconsin). While watching election returns, I saw a local television reporter covering long lines of voters. During an interview, you could see people handing out bottles of water to voters standing in line on a parching, hot and humid afternoon.

One voter said she had been handed a slip of paper which indicated the long lines were the result of faulty voting machines and that she could come back tomorrow to vote.

“I’m standing in this line as long as it takes until I vote for Barack Obama,” she replied.

Her comment was indicative as to what was happening that day in Florida. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his running mate, Janesville’s Paul Ryan, were expected to win in Florida. Republicans underestimated voter turnout in Florida, especially by minorities.

The woman in line eventually voted, and the Romney-Ryan ticket lost.

The point, however, is not who won or lost. The overriding issue is that all voters should be allowed to vote and all votes should be counted.

And, by the way, if a voter is forced to stand in a long line under a hot sun, water should not be outlawed.

Stan Milam, a Janesville native, is the host of the “Stan Milam Show” on WCLO Radio.


Recommended for you