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It’s illegal for businesses to offer freebies to people for voting in federal elections

According to U.S. code, it is illegal to offer free products or other incentives during any federal election to people for registering to vote or voting.

The midterm elections are on Nov. 8 and VERIFY has been looking into claims and answering common questions about the election process.

A VERIFY reader recently sent us this Facebook post about a Texas restaurant offering freebies for people with “I Voted” stickers, and asked if it’s legal for businesses to give incentives to voters.

This reporting is part of a series of stories ahead of the midterm elections. If you have any questions about the elections, email us at questions@verifythis.com or message us on social media @verifythis.  

More from VERIFY: 5 fast facts about the midterm elections


Is it legal for businesses to provide incentives for voting in federal elections?



This is false.

No, it’s not legal for businesses to provide incentives for voting in federal elections

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Title 52 of the U.S. code on voting and elections makes it illegal in a federal election – an election in which the president, U.S. senators or representatives are on the ballot – to “knowingly and willfully” pay, offer to pay, or accept payment for registering to vote or for voting. 

The law says anyone who pays, offers to pay or accepts payment either for registration to vote or for voting could be fined up to $10,000 or go to prison for up to five years, or both. 

The Nov. 8 midterm is a federal election, which means any business that offers you something for free in exchange for showing your “I Voted” sticker is technically violating federal law because it’s an incentive to vote – even if the free treat is just a donut.

More from VERIFY: No, Election Day is not a federal holiday

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at UCLA School of Law, confirmed to VERIFY that as long as federal candidates are on a ballot, it’s against federal law to incentivize voters. 

States run their own elections, and some have a version of this law that applies to state elections

According to FairVote.org, an advocacy group supporting voting reform, the only way giveaways could be legal for a federal election is if they are available to voters and nonvoters alike, which some businesses have done.

For example, Krispy Kreme is giving anyone a free donut if they stop by a store on Election Day. Bird scooters offer a free 30 minute ride on Election Day for anyone who uses the VOTE2022 promo code. Neither promotion requires recipients to show proof that they voted.

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