A Columbia restaurant that planned to offer young people a special on sandwiches if they voted canceled the promotion after questions were raised about its legality.
Sycamore announced on its Facebook page Oct. 13 that people ages 18 to 30 who brought “I Voted” stickers to the restaurant on Nov. 6 would get half-off on a sandwich. The restaurant said Monday that it was canceling the promotion because of questions raised about whether it would be legal to offer the discount only to voters of a certain age group.
Co-owner Sanford Speake said the sandwich special was intended to be a positive promotion to encourage voter registration. He said he got the idea after hearing that millennials don’t vote, which resonated with him because his children are 17 and 19 years old.
“More people voting is better for everyone,” Speake said.
Columbia resident Josh Kezer criticized the promotion, citing a federal law that prohibits the receiving or giving of any type of payment for registering or not registering to vote or for voting in a particular way.
He said Sycamore likely didn’t intend to discriminate against some voters, although the result was the same.
“Anything that targets a specific demographic is unfair to all other demographics,” said Kezer, who said he never planned to take legal action against the restaurant.
Speake said no one had threatened legal action, although he decided to cancel the promotion after seeing the amount of criticism on the restaurant’s Facebook page. The federal law had potential consequences for both Sycamore and any customers who would have participated.
University of Missouri law professor and election-law expert Richard Reuben said he didn’t think the federal law was aimed at promotions such as Sycamore’s. He said it historically has been interpreted as prohibiting rewards for people registering to vote.
“The application of that rule to a situation like this is, in my view, ridiculous,” he said.