Election 2018

Update: Free coffee from Saxbys on Election Day — no proof of voting required

The local cafe chain modified a plan to give freebies to people with “I Voted” stickers — that’s illegal under federal law.

i voted sticker
Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn

Update, Oct. 24: Saxbys will get right with the law by offering freebies to everyone on Nov. 6, a spokesperson told Billy Penn. All guests can now score a free medium coffee, cold brew, or green smoothie on Election Day – no “I Voted” sticker required.

Saxbys announced that it plans to offer free maple bourbon lattes and Groothie smoothies on Nov. 6 to anyone with an “I Voted” sticker. Free stuff for voting sounds like a great deal, right?

While the locally owned coffee chain’s altruism is admirable, it’s also illegal under federal law.

“In elections in which federal candidates are on the ballot, no one can offer any kind of benefit or reward for voting,” UC Irvine law and political science professor Rick Hasen told Politico in 2010. “The simple way to deal with this is to open up the event to all comers — voters and nonvoters alike.”

Hasen confirmed to Billy Penn by email that Saxbys offer does run afoul of federal law: “Tell them free lattes for all!”

A spokesperson for Saxbys said they were looking into our question.

Saxbys is far from the first good-intentioned company to make such an offer. In 2016, more than a dozen spots in Philadelphia offered freebies and discounts for voting.

As Hasen noted, the easiest way to get right with the law is to open the offer to everyone. That’s what Shake Shack did in 2016. “You don’t even have to prove you voted to score a free scoop of custard at any outpost of the green-emblazoned burger spot,” Billy Penn reported at the time. “Just mention the promotion and it’s yours.”

In addition to free stuff for customers, Saxbys also announced this week that “any team member that chooses to vote will be compensated for that hour of his or her time, whether or not they were scheduled to work.”

Unlike in some other states, giving employees paid time off to vote is not mandatory in Pennsylvania — but it is, according to Hasen, totally kosher.

Want some more? Explore other Election 2018 stories.

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