Well, to play devil's advocate here, von Spakovsky on the Heritage Foundation site says this:
The polemical taunts are directed toward two of the bill’s provisions, one that extends the state’s decade-old ID requirement to absentee ballots, and another that attempts to prevent campaigns and party activists from trying to corruptly influence voters by providing them with money, gifts, food, and water in polling places. [...]
So giving water (in person) is seen by the GOP as "corruptly influenc[ing] voters". And
By the way, unmentioned in the hysterical criticisms is new language making it ok for poll officials to make “self-service water from an unattended receptacle” available to “an elector waiting in line.”
How exactly is the "unattended receptacle" supposed to make its way down a long line (on its own??) is left unsaid. I've done a bit more searching but it's still rather unclear to me if one voter waiting in line (closer to the self-service water machine) passing a "receptacle" with water to another voter violates the [new] law or not. A strict reading of the text highlighted in the question suggests that it is a violation and an article in the Hill agrees with that reading. So I guess if you're too far from the self-service machine to service yourself in person, tough luck for you. Politifact has also looked at this. Apparently some GOP spinsters (e.g. Josh Holmes) have said on Fox News (and then repeated on other venues) that only political organizations are thus prohibited; so this seems to be part of the attempted justification in public. But that's not what the law actually says.
Holmes emphasized in an email to PolitiFact that water is allowed, but from an unattended receptacle. And he repeated his assertion that the law is targeted at preventing people from political organizations from making such handouts.
"I was responding specifically to the repeated claims that it criminalized water at the polls," Holmes told PolitiFact. "In reading the statute and speaking with Georgia officials, I understand that the intent of the statute is to deter electioneering at the polls, which is consistent with many other state laws. What I thought required clarification about the claim of criminalizing water, is that this Georgia statute was not silent on the issue. It specifically addressed the manner in which it may be provided."
But the language in the law doesn’t ban only political entities from handing out water.
Similarly, the National Review has a long piece that defends the Georgia law claiming it is very similar to that of e.g. Montana, even though the language in the latter's prohibition is obviously [at least trying to be] more narrow: "On election day, a candidate, a family member of a candidate, or a worker or volunteer for the candidate’s campaign may not distribute alcohol, tobacco, food, drink, or anything of value to a voter [...]"
A few notes about "Pizza to the Polls" (as it seems from Rick's answer that was a real motivator here). The strange thing about this is that Raffensperger said it was already illegal in Georgia, before this law. But others [outside of the GOP] disagreed (and seemingly there were no prosecutions of such operations under the old law), so I guess the new law was intended to make this indisputably clear, although I can't find an actual quote from a GOP member saying precisely that. (Instead there's plenty of vague argumentation like the stuff further above.) Here's Atlanta magazine recounting (in March) when this law was still at proposal/bill stage:
Issues(s): Line warming
What does the law currently say? When hours-long lines form at polling sites, you might see folks arrive with bottled water, snacks, and even slices of pizza to pass out to voters while they wait. But the process has long endured a bit of legal questioning. In an article last year exploring whether or not volunteers were legally allowed to offer food or drinks to voters, Henri Hollis of the AJC described the practice of “line warming” as one that “falls through the cracks.”
“At the crux of the issue are both federal and state laws meant to prevent special-interest groups from ‘rewarding’ voters for casting their ballots. The law is meant to prevent groups from buying votes through money or other means,” he writes. “However, according to attorney Dara Lindenbaum, counsel for the nonprofit voting rights group Fair Fight Action, there’s a loophole [in the old law]: As long as anyone, such as poll workers or passers-by, can partake in the offerings, the food and drink are clearly not a reward to voters.”
What would change? HB 531 is the bill that takes direct aim at “line warming.” It aims to make this practice a misdemeanor offense.
Volunteers, including celebrities and prominent figures, notably gave out food and water during the 2020 general election in an effort to convince voters to remain in line. But Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said line warming violates the Georgia law that prohibits campaigning near polling locations. According to 11 Alive, Reffensperger said the practice could “inappropriately influence voters in the crucial final moments before they cast their ballots.”
So, given that motivation, it seem somewhat clear that the new law was intended to ensure the illegality of anyone but poll officials via impersonal means giving (just) water (but apparently not food) to voters... because the old GA law was apparently unclear in this regard if those freebies were [personally] made available to anyone else around. GA GOP officials seemingly won't admit to this part though, i.e. that the old law had a loophole in this regard. It seems they [also] want to argue that it was always illegal to give food or drinks at the voting line.
Here's the Dec 2020 Raffensperger press release (via AJC) where this was made more clear, in regard to the old law:
The bulletin also reminds elections officials that offering food, drinks, or other items of value to voters waiting in line or those who have already voted is forbidden under Georgia law (OCGA § 21-2-570). Georgia['s old] law explicitly states that “Any person who gives or receives, offers to give or receive, or participates in the giving or receiving of money or gifts for the purpose of registering as a voter, voting, or voting for a particular candidate in any primary or election shall be guilty of a felony."
But there are those who think Raffensperger may be interpreting Georgia law more strictly than need be. [...]
Whatever those disputes the interpretation of the old law might have been, it's clear enough that the new law was made to explicitly fit the broader kind of prohibitions desired by Raffensperger (and probably much of the GOP in GA).
Some GA GOP officials like Gabriel Sterling have since then gone on record to claim both of the above prongs that had already been mentioned by other GOP figures:
- that (in Georgia) giving water was used as excuse to talk to and thus influence voters, and
- that other states, including Delaware (this was singled out as punch on Biden as his home state) already banned giving water to voters in line.
I'm omitting the quotes from Sterling here because they are included in DrSheldon's answer. But I'll point out that the Washington Post gave Sterling "two Pinocchios" for the last statement. In WaPo's view, it takes a fair bit of interpretation to read the Delaware law that way, because it isn't very specific. I'm also going to note here that there's a parallel between how Sterling interpreted the Delaware law and how Raffensperger interpreted the old Georgia law. Basically, in their view, giving water to voters in line was already illegal in Georgia and in other states.