Thursday, August 04, 2011

One of these things is not like the other

So what about allegations of Wisconsin Right to Life providing gift cards to people who obtain absentee ballot applications. Isn't that just the same as "ribs for votes?" Am I going to condemn that? Hypocrisy! Hypocrisy!

Well, no, I'm not condemn it because it's not the same thing. The statute prohibits providing a thing of value "to, or for, any elector, or to or for any other person, in order to induce any elector to ... [g]o to or refrain from going to the polls." "Let's work through it.

Let's get pass the easiest part first. WRTL, unlike Wisconsin Jobs Now, did not provide anything of value to an elector. It is offering something to a volunteer for getting out the vote of others. But couldn't we argue that they have provided something of value to "any other person" in order to induce an elector to vote.

I don't think so. First, it requires us to ignore an intermediate step that breaks the connection between the offer and the decision to vote. The offer is being made to someone other than the voter to induce her to do something other than vote. Additionally, such an interpretation would, as we say, prove too much. It would preclude providing anything of value to anyone in return for getting out the vote, including paid canvassers.

I would have advised WRTL not to allow volunteers to count their own absentee applications or those of their immediate family members in the number required to get a gift card. I don't know that they did that and I'm not suggesting that, if they did, the scheme is illegal. An absentee ballot application is still removed from voting in the way that a ride to the polls is not. But I think that would have been an appropriately conservative thing to do.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Question for you Rick - why is providing a ride to the polls legal? Don't both sides routinely do this, especially for people with difficulty driving themselves anywhere?

Is it ok because the statute only covers giving "any amount of money" or "any object" worth more than $1, but doesn't cover services? If that's the case, couldn't you hold a "lap dance for votes" party?