Election Day freebies not allowed for the 2018 midterms

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It's not too late to learn about the candidates running in your district. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

It's not too late to learn about the candidates running in your district. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In previous years, sporting an “I Voted” sticker on Election Day could get you some free stuff — pastries or a cup of coffee — but it turns out that’s illegal under federal law.

Last week, Saxbys, the Philadelphia-based coffee chain, announced it would give free maple bourbon lattes to anyone who showed up with an “I Voted” sticker Nov. 6.

Many companies have offered Election Day freebies over the years. In 2016, Krispy Kreme gave out free doughnuts, 7-Eleven offered free cups of coffee, and Gold’s Gym provided a free workout.

Because we will be voting for candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, those rewards are illegal in this midterm election.

“As far as the legality of it in the state of Pennsylvania, it does not violate the state election code, however, Nov. 6 is a federal election,” said Lisa Deeley, chairwoman of the Philadelphia Commissioners Office.

Deeley said because the 2018 midterms are a federal election where people vote for members of Congress, voting incentives are not allowed.

After press reports pointed out the illegality, Saxbys updated its Election Day promotion. It will be offering all guests a free smoothie or coffee — with no proof of voting required.

But in Philadelphia, voting incentives in nonfederal elections are allowed. In 2015, Philadelphia Citizen — a nonprofit media outlet — offered voters a chance to win $10,000 if they came to the polls in the city’s mayoral race. And in 2017, it offered $5,000 to a randomly selected voter in the district attorney and city controller primary races. The financial incentives were funded by a grant from the Pamela + Ajay Raju Foundation.

“What we found, the two times we did it … it did increase voter turnout,” said Larry Platt, co-founder and editor of the Citizen.

But monetary incentives aren’t the ideal, he said.

“In the American birthplace of democracy, we have horrible voter turnout,” Platt said. “We felt like if you’re in a civic participation crisis, all options ought to be on the table.”

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