One of the most talked about aspects of electoral reform in Georgia is the rule that restricts how food and drink can be shared with people standing in line to cast a ballot. The idea is that food could be used almost like a bribe towards a vote. An international charity that fed voters in the last election cycle said the law got it all wrong.

World Central Kitchen feeds people during global disasters like last year’s massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon and winter storms that recently killed at least 100 people in Texas.

The group changed part of their mission last year after seeing voting lines running for hours here in Georgia.

“While this wasn’t the typical type of crisis we’re responding to, it certainly was a crisis,” said Nate Mook, CEO of World Central Kitchen.

“We feed everyone everywhere,” he said. “We don’t have a specific lens through which we do our work. And we responded in places across the country and counties across the country during the 2020 election, blue and red states, if you will call them that. “

World Central Kitchen was brought into the spotlight when a video was widely viewed of voting lines that wrapped around Cobb County’s electoral office last October for early voting.

In the video, a volunteer is there with a volunteer cook when World Central Kitchen started serving tacos to anyone who wanted to eat.

“Sorry, how long have you been in line?” The first volunteer asks a group of voters how to leave the Cobb County polling station.

The group had arrived at 8:20 a.m. that morning, and it was almost 12 hours later by the time they finished voting.

That’s half a day on your feet. In addition, the high temperature that day was around 80 degrees. With adults, children, and seniors waiting under the Georgian sun, people became thirsty and hungry. World Central Kitchen was there to provide relief.

Mook said the organization saw the crisis in Georgia during the 2020 primaries.

“Six hours, eight hours, ten hours, sometimes longer, people had to wait to cast their ballots,” Mook said. “And when we saw this, we thought, ‘Do you know how do you stand in line without food for so long? Without water?'”

Mook said his workers should remain apolitical, just asking people if they are hungry or thirsty, and serve voters when they could use a bite to eat.

Mook isn’t happy with the new electoral law, which bans anyone serving refreshments within 50 meters of polling stations and closer to 25 feet of someone in line. He believes the law was directed against people like him and his organization simply to help those who needed it.

However, Governor Brian Kemp and Republicans fear that something more will happen if refreshments are offered to voters. Kemp told WSB that food could be a tool to convince voters.

“It shouldn’t be that politicians – or third party groups who have an agenda for the elections – don’t distribute things to voters to talk to them about who they might vote for,” Kemp said.

Because of this, the provision was included in Senate Draft 202 to prevent what they call campaigning.

It’s not clear how much, if any, of what Kemp fears happened last year. The Georgian Foreign Minister’s office said it had “received numerous complaints and carried out several investigations into people who campaign in restricted areas and exchange valuable items for votes”.

But none of the complaints are against World Central Kitchen. Mook said they don’t. He said the new law only poses problems in the future.

“It’s really a bit vengeful in a way – a bit of a punishment for the voters,” Mook said.

If the voting lines again warrant food aid in next year’s gubernatorial election, Mook said World Central Kitchen will be there. He just hopes none of his volunteers or small business partners get into trouble with the law while he helps people wait.

“It’s really tragic that food is becoming such a symbol of political struggle right now,” said Mook. “And I hope this doesn’t go on. I hope we can see that the food shouldn’t be in the middle of it all. Food should be available to everyone. And we shouldn’t use it that way. “