's eyebrows raised when we noticed the following tweet by Mayor Francis Slay from Sunday:
A minor legal problem there: Financially rewarding citizens for voting is illegal under federal election law. Below is the relevant statute, 18 USC § 597
(we've bolded the part that applies):
Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote,
or to vote for or against any candidate; and Whoever solicits, accepts,
or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the
withholding of his vote--
Shall be fined under this title or
imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was
willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two
years, or both.
Now, does offering a discount for voters qualify as an "expenditure"?
Professor Rick Hasen at the University of California - Irvine
, who has published
some scholarly research on vote-buying, believes the answer is "yes." He reiterated
this position to Politico the other day, which article went on to point out that Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and Ben & Jerry's have all modified promotions for fear of violating this law.
Asked for comment, Mayor Slay's spokeswoman Kara Bowlin e-mailed us to say, "Just because something may be illegal doesn't necessarily mean that the mayor agrees with the law...Or that the law is enforced."
Perhaps not: Many St. Louis establishments, including Hooter's, Gioia's Deli, Southwest Diner
, and Pickles Deli
, don't seem afraid at all to promote their voter discounts.
Legal or illegal, the goal is to increase turnout, which has civic value -- perhaps that's why the lefty British paper, The Guardian
, has called
election-law stickler Dr. Hasen "a crotchety spoilsport who probably just needs.... a big hug."