Columbia restaurant ends Election Day promo that would have violated voter law

Posted on 22 October 2018 at 3:39pm

COLUMBIA - A downtown Columbia restaurant discontinued an Election Day incentive after realizing it could be violating voter laws.

In a Facebook post on October 13, Sycamore announced they would be offering half priced sandwiches to anyone between the ages of 18 and 30 if they came into Sycamore wearing an "I voted" sticker. 

On Monday, Sycamore announced they no longer planned to do the promotion "due to the threat of legal action." 

Sycamore is one of the many restaurants both locally and nationally who do election day incentives for people who voted. But the issue of legality comes up when companies tie it to the act of voting. 

“The thing that makes it iffy is that it is tied to your voting. The law is supposed to provide an incentive to not buy people’s votes," said Brianna Lennon, a Columbia-based lawyer who is also running for Boone County Clerk. "If it were something more like it's Election Day and everything is available to everyone, regardless if you voted or showed your I voted sticker. That’s fine." 

Sycamore's co-owner, Sanford Speake, said that he was unaware that this was against the law and he wanted to reach out to a population of people that was both not a major part of his customer base but would also be socially positive. Ultimately the risk of a potential lawsuit made him end the promotion. 

"There was no explicit threat. Not one person came out and said if you do this I will sue you," Speake said. "The reality of it is it is a possibility so we don't want to take that chance."

Josh Kezer was the first person to leave a comment on the Facebook post, drawing attention to the illegality of the action, after questioning whether or not the deal could be offered to specific groups of people. 

"The more I looked into it, I decided to engage the post," said Kezer. "I am very grateful and thankful that the owners of Sycamore decided to respond very civilly and politely. They looked into and came to the same conclusion." 

In both Missouri and federal law, it is the act of tying it to voting, not the act of offering the deal to specific people, that is against the law. 

Kezer said the reason he looked into this was voter integrity and making sure people aren't influenced to vote based off of bribery.

"The last thing we should need to do is pay people a 50 percent bonus to go out and vote," Kezer said. "We are in a town of higher education so people should be encouraged to actually become educated. And vote based on the issues, not on a discount."