By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: While concerns have emerged elsewhere this campaign season about encouraging people to vote by offering free food, a state election official says Nevada law is not excessively restrictive on the practice.
Matt Griffin, deputy secretary of state for elections, said Nevada law does not automatically prohibit a campaign or candidate from offering food to those who attend “get out the vote” rallies aimed at increasing voter participation.
As long as the food is not predicated upon voting for a particular candidate or ballot question, the event would comply with state law, he said.
Griffin says when he gets inquiries about what is permissible he looks at two factors: what is the intention of the person making the offer, and will the voter be compromised or feel as if he or she is compromised. If the answer to these questions is “no” then the event is permissible under state law, he said.
So if candidate “x” holds a get-out-the-vote rally and offers free hot dogs without restricting who can attend and without seeking a commitment for a particular vote, then there would be no legal issue with such an event, Griffin said.
Nevada Revised Statutes 293.700 sets out the law regarding such situations: “A person who bribes, offers to bribe, or uses any other corrupt means, directly or indirectly, to influence any elector in giving his or her vote or to deter the elector from giving it is guilty of a category D felony . . .”
Griffin said the value of the food or enticement does not matter. Bribery is a public corruption crime, he said.
There is no issue with other rewards provided to those who vote and show their “I voted” sticker to obtain a gift as long as it is not predicated on who the person voted for, he said. Some hotel-casinos, for example, give free show tickets to employees who voted.
In 2008, the Starbucks chain offered a free coffee to people who voted in the general election.
The issue has generated more interest with the advent of early voting. Early voting began Saturday in Nevada.
The issue of offering free food at get-out-the-vote rallies surfaced last week in South Dakota, where Democrats were holding three events on Native American reservations that featured “feeds” to attract potential voters.
An article about the events by the Argus Leader newspaper reported that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson had affirmed an earlier opinion that political campaigns cannot offer incentives, including food, to encourage people to vote.