November 1, 2004
Doughnuts for Democracy

If you're in America, you should know that tomorrow is Election Day. Sadly, in years past, voter turnout has been lower than you'd expect in a country where you have the chance to choose your own leader.

I have a suggestion for everybody who wants to help boost turnout in this election. Send an e-mail right now to your office promising doughnuts for anyone who can bring in a voting receipt on Tuesday or Wednesday. [UPDATE: EmilyB in the comments remarks it may not be legal to offer an incentive to vote - even a doughnut. Don't do it if it's illegal where you live. I'm researching my area as I speak. So far - nothing definitive.] As a 20 year veteran of the workplace I can tell you that people do things for doughnuts.

If they won't vote to change the way the most powerful nation on Earth is governed, maybe they'll do it for a chocolate frosted original with sprinkles.

Why doughnuts? Why not fruit or beef jerky or pre-made salads? Everyone knows that doughnuts are the Official Food of Corporate America. Are you more likely to be motivated by a bunch of lettuce with oil and vinegar or a decadent fried jelly-filled mound of lard and sugar? Maybe I should rephrase that - Because it's tradition!

Give it a shot - maybe that glazed doughnut will help remove the glazed look in a non-voting co-worker's eyes.

If your state doesn't give voter receipts, have people in your office attest on a sign-up sheet to their participation in the democratic process before you give them a nice shot of sugar. Hit up senior management first. The toadies in your office will be motivated just by seeing their names at the top of the sheet.

And for Pete's sake, go vote yourself.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at November 1, 2004 9:37 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Great idea, Barrett! You'd have to be fairly atruistic, though, if you suspect your co-workers are going to vote differently from yourself...a tough call!

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 1, 2004 at 10:23 AM

Several years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, there was a doughnut store that would give you a dozen doughnuts (baker's dozen, no less) if you showed them your ballot stub.

Unfortunately, they had to stop - it seems it's illegal to provide anything of value as an incentive to vote (even if it's a general "GO VOTE" and not a "go vote for this person"). :-(

Posted by EmilyB on November 1, 2004 at 1:50 PM

Well that's a revolting development. I'll update the entry to caution our readers. Thanks, EmilyB.

Posted by barrett on November 1, 2004 at 2:22 PM

I wonder if the powers that be would make a distinction between a bribe and a reward: i.e. if you don't tell people in advance that they are getting something for voting does it count as a bribe?

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 1, 2004 at 2:24 PM

So far the city bounced me to the State Board of Elections. The person answering the phone there indicated she didn't think it was a problem since she knew of parties where you had to have a voting receipt to get in. She sent me to another person who indicated "You know, we've been getting that question all week, and I don't think we've gotten a definitive answer." He transferred me to the Deputy Counsel who was out to lunch. They took my particulars and indicated the DC will call me back when she gets back in.

So far - one intuitive "It's probably OK", and no definitive answer. Stay tuned.

Posted by barrett on November 1, 2004 at 2:45 PM

No callbacks yet. Well, proceed at your own risk. I think as long as you aren't advocating for a candidate or party but just boosting general voting, you're probably OK. However, I am not a lawyer and do not warrant my advice in this matter.

Posted by barrett on November 1, 2004 at 10:12 PM

Two parts of the US Code (Title 42 Section 1973i and Title 18 Section 57-something) make it illegal to pay or offer to pay someone to register to vote, to vote at all, to not vote at all, or to vote for or against a particular candidate. Courts (and the DOJ) have said that payment means something of value outside of the act of voting itself (e.g. giving someone a ride to the polls or showing them how to fill out a registration form isn't payment, since there's no benefit beyond being able to vote), and the compensation has to be commensurate with the act of voting (e.g. giving someone the entire day off in return for voting, as opposed to allowing them some time off to go to the polls and return, is sketchy, although the DOJ has yet to (I don't think) prosecute anyone for doing that).

And state laws also are often more restrictive than federal laws, which further complicates things.

All of which is to say that, technically, Donuts4Democracy is probably illegal. But considering that VoteOrNot is giving away two $100k prizes in a lottery open to everyone who registers on their site promising to vote (, if anyone wants to give me an extra referral entry...), and nobody has prosecuted them, I suspect that donuts are OK.

Hmm... Come to think of it, the Red Hot & Blue chain of barbecue joints is offering basically the same idea as Donuts4Democracy: $5 off on food on Election Day if you show up with an "I Voted" sticker, which I'm planning on taking advantage of for lunch tomorrow. (Mmm... civically responsible pulled pork...) So, until they get sued, voter motivation via fried dough seems like a relatively safe course of action.

(Clearly, I've spent too much time immersed in voter registration recently.)

Posted by Sweth Chandramouli on November 1, 2004 at 11:21 PM

Sweth, you can't spend too much time immersed in voter registration legislation. (Have you considered taking a trip to Florida recently...?)

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 2, 2004 at 1:51 AM

Did you notice that the Amateur Gourmet is going one step further and bri...I mean REWARDING people for voting for Kerry? For a proto-lawyer, he certainly has guts!

Here's the story:

Posted by Meg in Paris on November 2, 2004 at 4:39 AM

It's good thing we sent your husband for coffee and doughnuts. Mine couldn't carry more than two!

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