In Georgia, Vote and Get a Free Gun
Today, the masses head to the polling booths. American citizens across the country will vote for Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, a third party candidate or no one for president, as well as casting their ballots in a slew of state and local elections. Voters can return home with a burst of civic pride for doing their part to support our democracy. In Georgia, one lucky voter could also go home with a free gun.
Adventure Outdoors, an Atlanta-area sporting goods store, has put up billboards around the city advertising a raffle for a handgun or rifle for people who bring in stickers indicating that they voted today. The store owner since clarified that anyone can enter the raffle, not just voters. Good thing, because otherwise the promotion was at strong risk of running afoul of Georgia law.
A state senator had filed a complaint with Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, over the gun lottery. Kemp then released a statement reminding that the giving or receiving of gifts or money in exchange for voting is a felony.
Store owner Jay Wallace defended the promotion as a way to encourage people to vote, while acknowledging that the raffle tickets would not be restricted to voters only. “It’s just getting people involved in the process,” he told a local news source. “I don’t understand what [State Sen. Vincent Ford's] problem is. Is he afraid somebody’s going to get involved in our political system?”
Once the store owner said that the raffle was free to anyone regardless of whether they had cast a ballot, officials backed off. “I don’t have any objections to it if it complies with the law,” Ford told the AP after Wallace said that the raffle was open to everyone.
“Should they violate what they told our office they would do, then that will be taken into account and actions will be taken accordingly,” a spokesperson for the secretary of state said.
The raffle could have also been a violation of federal law, which bans any expenditure or offer of expenditure for voters in elections that have a federal candidate, such as for president or senator.
Beer, Tacos and Ice Cream
The Georgia gun promotion is not the only instance of businesses offering incentives to people who show that they voted:
- In Washington, D.C., a brewing company was set to give away a pint of beer to people who showed their “I voted” stickers; however the brewers took back the offer once informed they were violating the law.
- In California, customers can pick up a free taco or free hamburger at a pair of local restaurants if they say they voted. The store owners claim that they are complying with federal law by not actually requiring any proof of voting.
- Politico rounded up a host of other voter promotions from yoga discounts to oysters to bagels to hotdogs.
While not as egregious as paying someone to vote for a specific candidate, offering goodies in exchange for voting at all can still bring up some potential ethical problems.
“The concern here is that payments for turnout, whether directed to all voters or targeted only at voters in certain areas, brings a money calculation into the picture in much the same was as core vote buying [paying for a vote for a particular candidate],” writes University of California Irvine Law Professor and elections expert Richard L. Hasen in a California Law Review article. “It tells us that voting might be for getting a discounted ham, and not for choosing the best leaders . . . the equation of incentives for voting could still have a ‘corrosive effect’ on politics, even though the payment is just about getting people to vote, not telling them how to vote.”
Hasen famously called out Ben & Jerry’s for offering free ice cream to voters in 2008. The frozen treat vendors quickly modified the promotion to give away a cone to everyone who entered the store that election day.
Happy voting, even if your ballot doesn’t come with an ice cream, gun or any other prize.
Do you think it’s unethical for businesses to offer incentives for people to vote, as long as they don’t promote a particular candidate or party?