A few weeks ago, Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, brought up an unlikely topic during a weekly staff meeting: the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The first episode of the show’s 12th and final season had just premiered. At the end of the episode, Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld and the show’s curmudgeonly, faux-pas-prone protagonist, gets arrested for giving a bottle of water to another character as she stands in the sweltering Georgia heat. “That’s barbaric – what kind of law? Are you serious?,” David says as he’s led away in handcuffs by two police officers. He winds up getting a mugshot taken in the style of Donald Trump in Fulton county.

In the next two episodes, David basks in adulation as he goes on to become a national hero, earning plaudits from Stacey Abrams and the flirty attention of Sienna Miller.

As Albright knew well, the show was referring to a real law. In 2021, Georgia Republicans enacted SB202, a bill with sweeping voting restrictions, including a ban on giving out food or water within 150ft of a polling place or within 25ft of any voter standing in a line – which could extend well beyond the 150ft radius. Violating it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Georgia had recently seen egregiously long lines to vote and many saw the measure as an obvious attempt to make it harder for Black voters to cast a ballot.

Voting rights advocates noted that the law passed after Black voters powered Joe Biden to victory in Georgia in 2020. Biden himself called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century”. Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta in 2021 and activists increased pressure on companies such as Coca-Cola to take a stand against it.

Voting rights activists, including Cliff Albright, fifth from left, protest in front of the White House in 2021. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Albright was very familiar with efforts to make it harder to hand out food and water to people waiting to vote. In 2023, Black Voters Matter faced a complaint it was running afoul of electioneering rules after it handed out food and water to people standing in polling lines in Albany, Georgia. The state board of elections dismissed the complaint. The board has not had any recent complaints about groups giving out food or water, said Sara Tindall Ghazal, a Democrat on the board.

Albright said he was happy David had chosen to focus on the issue.

“I loved it. He was clearly trying to point out how ridiculous the law is, especially when you have folks waiting on unnecessarily long lines,” he said in a text message. He added that some staff had seen the episode and thought it was a good way to raise awareness about the law.

The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who has staunchly defended the law, was less enthusiastic.

“While Curb Your Enthusiasm is usually hilarious, this one distorted the facts beyond anything funny,” he said in a statement. “But it’s tough to make a joke out of Georgia’s two minute wait times – or our number one ranking for election security.”

Last summer, a federal judge limited the scope of the food-and-water ban. While handing out food and water to votes within 150 feet of a polling place is still banned, providing aid outside of that radius is allowed (it wasn’t clear how close David was to the polling place when his alleged offense occurred).

While the food and water ban have gotten significant attention, other provisions in the law have caused headaches. One allows any voter to file an unlimited number of challenges to another voter’s eligibility. Ahead of the 2022 election, local elections boards were overwhelmed by people filing election challenges.

In an interview with TheWrap, Schaffer said the show had long planned to use the law as a storyline.

“We were always going to Atlanta because of the that barbaric law that you can’t give anybody water or food when they’re in line for voting,” he told the site. “When we were talking about stories, Larry said, ‘This law is insane. I think it’d be funny if I got arrested for that.’”

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