Why handing out snacks, drinks at polling stations can be 'what stops people from abandoning their right to vote.'

Pizza to the Polls, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, serves food at polling locations on Election Day to keep voters in good spirits while waiting in long lines. (Photo: Pizza to the Polls)
Pizza to the Polls, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization, serves food at polling locations on Election Day to keep voters in good spirits while waiting in long lines. (Photo: Pizza to the Polls)

On Election Day, when polling lines get long, there are organizations that spring to action, delivering snacks, drinks and other food to areas where voters may be growing weary with the long wait required to cast their vote. For these groups, it's about more than delivering delicious pizza to voters: That pepperoni pie is a way to encourage those visiting the polls to stay the course and make their voice heard.

"When it comes to voting, the most important thing is keeping people in line," says Amirah Noaman, executive director at Pizza to the Polls, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that started in 2016. "A simple bottle of water or snack can be what stops people from abandoning their right to vote."

Noaman tells Yahoo Life that Pizza to the Polls, which delivers pizza to areas where long polling lines are reported through their website, has a simple mission: Delivering pizzas nationwide ... to help make voting a little more fun. "We know that voting is habit-forming," Noaman shares, "so a good experience at the polls is crucial to ensuring future participation."

A simple bottle of water or snack can be what stops people from abandoning their right to vote."Amirah Noaman, Pizza to the Polls

With Election Day right around the corner and early voting well underway in most areas around the U.S., making time to wait in potentially long lines is top of mind for many — especially those who juggle responsibilities like work schedules, parenting duties and other obligations.

As citizens take time out of their day to exercise one of the most essential rights they possess, simple food and beverage can make all the difference. In fact, the idea of serving food at the polls is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years.

"Food and drink have been integral parts of the voting process for centuries," shares Clara Sutton, who has been volunteering at polling locations for more than a decade, "in medieval England, for example, voters were given bread and ale to ensure they were well-fed and happy when they cast their ballots."

Years later, as America was beginning to take form, food and drink were introduced as a campaign tactic in the U.S. to encourage those who came to the polls to support the seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, who took office in 1829.

"Politicians realized they could influence voters by giving them food," says Inez Stanway, a former elementary school teacher who spent her career teaching students about the election process and its rich history. "This tactic was first used in the 1828 presidential election when Jackson's supporters provided free whiskey and cider to voters."

Hundreds of years after Jackson's presidential campaign, the tradition is still alive and well. "In some ways, this tradition is a throwback to the early days of American democracy," Sutton says, "[back] when voting was a community event and people came together to share a meal while they exercised their right to vote."

In the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, a simple snack can make all the difference when it comes to ensuring that voters stay in line until their ballot is cast. "Long voting lines can be discouraging to many," Noaman says, explaining that organizations like Pizza to the Polls and others work to change the tone at polling locations, not to sway election results.

According to a Vote.org spokesperson, long lines can be a huge hurdle for people when trying to make time to vote. In some states, voters have fewer methods for voting and are required to vote in person on Election Day, causing an extended wait time. Long lines can add to voters' stress on the day of the election, and when polling locations occasionally reduce the hours polls are open on Election Day, voters struggle to fit voting in with work or school commitments. The spokesperson explains that these types of hurdles impact some citizens more than others and can be viewed as a form of voter suppression.

"Poll closures disproportionately happen in communities of color," they tell Yahoo Life. "Voters of color wait in line for much longer times than white voters on average."

Andrea Hailey, chief executive officer of Vote.org, tells Yahoo Life that the organization, "aims to make voting more joyful for all eligible voters, and providing food and drinks for people forced to wait in long voting lines is a natural extension of that work."

"Importantly, it's also the humane thing to do," Hailey adds of the Vote.org food trucks that visit some polling locations. "Ideally, voters should be able to vote in 30 minutes or less, but until that day comes, Vote.org will be here to serve food and drinks to all those who wish to be engaged and active members of their community ... food trucks won't solve the problem of long lines, but Vote.org hopes it will make the process of voting safer and more comfortable for thousands of voters across the country."

This year, Vote.org food trucks will serve communities across Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. Through research, Vote.org identified locations across these states that have seen disproportionately longer lines, added laws that have made voting more difficult and time-consuming or both.

But in some states, it's considered a no-no to distribute food at polling locations, regardless of the intention behind the gesture.

"We are aware that Georgia passed laws prohibiting third-party vendors from handing out food and beverages at polling sites," Noaman tells Yahoo Life. "Laws like these are troubling because we believe that everyone at polling places should have access to food and water in a safe and lawful way."

But advocates like those at Pizza To The Polls won't let suppressive laws keep them from accomplishing their goals. "This election cycle, Pizza to the Polls [took] a non-traditional approach to ensuring Georgians [were] well-fed leading into the election by partnering with nonprofits like New Georgia Project and The People's Uprising to turn voter registration and education events into pizza parties," Noaman says.

And their efforts to distribute cheesy goodness won't end there. On Election Day, Pizza to the Polls will host events and deliver pizzas around the Philadelphia, Pa. area. Noaman says the group's 2022 goal is simple: "To keep democracy alive — and delicious."

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