Remember that nice, civic-minded advertisement that debuted during "Saturday Night Live" and shot to viral fame on YouTube? The one where you get free coffee for telling your chipper barista that you just voted? Well, the offer may not be exactly legal.
Election laws prevent individuals and organizations from offering monetary incentives to get people to the polls, keeping partisan hacks from bribing potential voters likely to swing their way. Unfortunately for national chains like Starbucks, Krispy Kreme, Ben & Jerry's and sex-toys emporium Babeland, the definition of "monetary incentive" also includes offers of free stuff like coffee, donuts, ice cream, and, um, a certain sleeve-like contraption called "The Maverick."
Would anyone actually pursue legal action against such altruistic institutions? Probably not. According to D.C.-based election law expert Kenneth Gross, the offers were neither partisan nor overly generous nor particularly concerned with verifying that customers actually cast votes, all of which makes the undertaking pretty benign in the legal scheme of things. "With or without a tall cup of coffee, I doubt any prosecutor will lose any sleep over this," he said.
Still, just to be on the safe side, the companies have backtracked; free stuff will now be on offer for everyone, whether or not they cast their ballots. Starbucks didn't return NEWSWEEK's phone call on Monday, but the message came through loud and clear via Twitter late last night: Oops.
"IMPORTANT: To ensure that we are in compliance with election law, we are extending our offer to all customers who request a tall brewed drip."
Ain't democracy grand? Perhaps, although Gross has a more sobering take on the situation. "If everyone takes these companies up on their giveaways, I hope the next president has a heck of a health plan to offer the American people."
Seen other fun stuff on offer for election day? Let us know and we'll give you a shoutout on our new reader feedback blog, Readback.
Update: Starbucks did get back to us with their new statement after catching this post: "We’ve been excited by the number of positive responses received about our free coffee offer. To ensure we are in compliance with election law, we are extending our offer to all customers who request a tall brewed coffee. We’re pleased to honor our commitment to communities on this important Election Day. We hope there is a record turnout on Tuesday and look forward to celebrating with our customers over a great cup of coffee."