Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 1, 2004

Voter freebies may be illegal

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Just when you decided there was no good reason to vote, along comes new motivation: a free cookie.

In a move to recognize people who demonstrate "active citizenship on Election Day," the Doubletree Alana Hotel Waikiki joined the national Doubletree chain in offering a chocolate chip cookie to anyone presenting a voter stub or "I voted" sticker.

But the promotion — and other election freebies and discounts on Maui — apparently has run afoul of the law.

Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state Office of Elections, said Friday the companies will be notified that they may be in violation of state election law and will be asked to voluntarily stop the promotions.

On Maui, the Pacific Whale Foundation offered voters a free 12-ounce cup of coffee or a $1 discount on more expensive beverages at its Ocean Cafe in Ma'alaea. Maui Theatre in Lahaina was giving a $15 discount on the regular $35 resident rate for the popular "'Ulalena" stage production.

But now those deals are history. Maui County Clerk Roy Hiraga said he talked to representatives of both organizations and warned them they might be violating the law.

They aren't alone in offering perks to voters. The Wall Street Journal reported that it's a growing national phenomenon that includes such deals as free tacos to voters from a Washington-area restaurant chain and free bus rides from the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky. A New York television production company is giving employees who vote an extra vacation day.

However, a U.S. statute prohibits "coercing" voters, while another makes it illegal to make or receive an "expenditure ... to vote." The state law is somewhat more explicit, saying anyone who offers to give "any money (or) valuable consideration to ... induce any elector to vote" is guilty of election fraud.

The language is subject to interpretation, Quidilla conceded, so that's why the state is asking for voluntarily compliance.

"We know these are not malicious attempts to coerce voters, but we do want to be cautious," he said.

Anne Rillero, marketing director of the Pacific Whale Foundation, said she read about the promotion in a magazine and thought it was an excellent idea to encourage people to vote.

"I was very surprised to learn that it was against the law," she said. "Our intentions were only very, very good."

The Maui Theatre decided to switch to a canned-food drive supporting the Maui Food Bank. Hawai'i residents who bring nonperishable items during the month of November will earn the $15 discount.

A Doubletree spokesperson said the hotel hadn't heard from election officials.

"If someone was only going to vote because of a cookie ... " said Roberta Rinker-Ludloff, regional vice president of marketing, "I guess that says a lot about these cookies. They're delicious. Have you tried one?"

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.