Election Day is not a holiday we celebrate with food. We don’t gather at home and hunker down in the kitchen. We do the opposite: On Election Day we mobilize and make our voices heard in public at the polls.
Recently, NPR’s Morning Edition shared with listeners the story of Pizza to the Polls, a crowd-funded organization that delivers free pies to people waiting to vote. “Americans are hungry for democracy and are turning out in record numbers to vote. But that means long lines and sometimes empty stomachs, which might discourage these brave patriots from performing their civic duty.”
It’s a clever idea that got me wondering about other free food events that take place on Election Day. But I quickly discovered something a little hard to swallow.
It’s actually illegal to offer free food for voting. Krispy Kreme got into a sticky situation in 2016 when they offered a free doughnut to people with “I Voted” stickers. A similar meltdown occurred that year when Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shops offered a free scoop to sticker-wearers.
For one thing, federal law prohibits anyone from offering “an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate.” That a doughnut could constitute an “expenditure” seems silly – until we consider the long history of plying people with food and drink to win votes. George Washington famously adopted the practice after losing an early election in Virginia. When you think of it that way, maybe the distance between rum punch and rocky road shrinks a little.
So here’s the bottom line: You can give away free food on Election Day, but you can’t limit it to people who vote. A business can launch any sort of promotion or special, but they have to make it available to everyone, irrespective of voting status.
And that’s why the Election Day pizza giveaway is genius: Anyone can report a packed polling place, and everyone at the site can chow down: voters, candidates, volunteers, kids, or bystanders. True equality.
Will voter turnout in the Charlotte area swell to a level that earns us free pizza? After all, 2018 is a midterm election when fewer people tend to vote. So we’ll have to see. But given the current contentiousness over local, regional, and national issues, our chances seem to be looking pretty good.