Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Starbucks' Pro-Voter Promotion

Yesterday, I overheard more than one voter chatting about Starbuck's promotion on Election Day. It was one of many promotions by food and beverage companies. But according to

Starbucks announced Saturday that stores would be offering a free "tall" coffee to anyone who voted [on Election Day]; Krispy Kreme promised a doughnut with red, white, and blue sprinkles.

. . . Wait a second, isn't this voter bribery illegal? Yes, though it probably wouldn't be prosecuted.

Federal law states it's a crime to offer, solicit, or accept any "expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote." Those who violate the rule are subject to imprisonment for up to one year, a fine, or both. (At least three of the companies offering Election Day giveaways — Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, and Ben & Jerry's — have since changed their offers. Now they're offering free stuff to everyone, not just people who claim to have voted.)

The federal ban against voting quid pro quo only applies to national ballots. . . . In California, for example, it's perfectly legal to reward voters for showing up to the polls in a local election — but it's against the rules to buy a vote for a specific candidate. (In theory, Starbucks could hand out cups of coffee — or, indeed, wads of cash — to induce turnout among California voters as long as no federal candidates were on the ballot.)
And I found this snippet amusing:

In 1999, California State Assembly candidate Elihu Harris and the state Democratic Party sent mailers to predominantly African-American neighborhoods offering a free chicken dinner for anyone who could prove that they voted.

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