The GOP has fired the first shots in the War on Pizza.
The Ohio Republican Party filed a complaint with the Franklin County Board of Elections alleging that the Obama campaign violated state criminal laws when it offered pizza to those going to early vote. The Republicans allege that the pizza is an illegal inducement to vote.
The Republicans are super serious about this – they even engaged in undercover operations. Really. It’s just like The Wire, only totally lame. The Ohio GOP attached surveillance photographs and covert transcripts to the complaint. (We can only hope they came up with a really cool code name for this effort. Operation Mozzarella Drop? Operation Enduring Pepperoni?)
Some quick legal analysis.
The relevant statute is Revised Code § 3599.01(A)(3). This is the bribery statute. The statute prohibits a person from the following: “Advance, pay, or cause to be paid or procure or offer to procure money or other valuable thing to or for the use of another, with the intent that it or part thereof shall be used to induce such person to vote or to refrain from voting.”
This clearly does not apply. The key word is “induce.” This means that the evidence must show that the person was not going to vote, but decided to do so because the person was offered pizza. Alternatively, the evidence would have to show that only people who promised to vote for Obama were offered pizza. Neither fact patterns seems to apply here.
A similar situation is seen in the long-standing practice of offering people rides to the polls. Clearly, a ride is a “thing of value.” Yet nobody would seriously argue that the statute was intended to cover such situations.
In a 1965 case in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court, a judge reviewed door prizes offered by a candidate. The court found that small gifts to voters were most likely advertising and not bribes. The judge noted that the an inducement would only occur if either “before you hand out the door prize to the winning person you do not say, ‘Now, you only get this if you agree to vote for Joe Blow,’” or if the gifts become “substantial,” “expensive” or “out of proportion.” Trumble v. Stano, 8 Ohio Misc. 69, 73 (Ohio C.P. 1965). This analysis seems to suggest that a couple of slices of pizza would not be included within the statue as an “inducement.”
(In an Attorney General Opinion, it was suggested that a professor offering extra credit for students who vote could violate the statute. This is probably incorrect, and has little to no precedential value. We say this because even the opinion notes that some type of de minimis standard could be read into the statute. In this situation, the awarding of “extra credit, particularly when it is not used to coerce a vote in a certain manner, is insignificant” and therefore, in our view, should not have been read to violate the statute.)
Here’s the saddest part. The War on Pizza is a national effort of the Republican Party. In Colorado, Republicans complained that say Democrats improperly offered Colorado State University students free pizza and T-shirts in exchange for voting.
The GOP has failed miserably in its efforts to limit voting this election. In Texas, a federal court held that Texas’ voter ID law was discriminatory . In Pennsylvania, state courts have limited implementation of a Republican voter ID law. Efforts in Florida to reduce early voting ran into problems with the Voting Rights Act. And, as we have covered extensively, here in Ohio, changes in the law to limit early voting were rejected by the federal courts.
In these cases, the GOP (falsely) claimed that restricting voting was necessary to protect the integrity of the system. Now, having lost efforts to restrict voting, the Republicans now see pizza for college kids as the greatest threat to the electoral system. Sad.