The Yes on Measure I campaign in Tulare last week offered voters a chance to win $100 in groceries for placing their ballots in the mailbox.
The problem is, it may be illegal to offer a financial incentive to vote.
Measure I is a proposed $55 million bond that would raise the money to finish the stalled Tulare Regional Medical Center hospital addition.
It requires two-thirds voter approval to pass and is a mail-in only ballot that will be counted Aug. 30.
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The measure is proving controversial in Tulare Local Health Care District, which includes Tulare and environs, because voters several years ago approved an $85 million bond for the hospital addition that was never completed.
David Andalon is the campaign manager for Yes on Measure I.
He said the campaign held an event Saturday at Zumwalt Park in Tulare, across the street from the Tulare Post Office, and offered the chance at $100 for groceries.
“We did do a ‘bring your ballot out to the post office on Saturday, you get entered into a drawing for a $100 gift certificate to buy groceries,’ ” he said.
We did do a ‘bring your ballot out to the post office on Saturday, you get entered into a drawing for a $100 gift certificate to buy groceries.’
David Andalon, Yes on Measure I campaign manager
But California Elections Code Section 18521 appears to state that offering a gift for voting is not legal.
“A person shall not directly or through any other person receive, agree, or contract for, before, during or after an election, any money, gift, loan, or other valuable consideration, office, place, or employment for himself or any other person because he or any other person:
(a) Voted, agreed to vote, refrained from voting, or agreed to refrain from voting for any particular person or measure,” the law states.
The punishment could be 16 months or two or three years in prison.
The Tulare District Attorney’s Office was given a copy of a flier advertising the $100 incentive and the event at Zumwalt Park, but the DA’s office is not investigating and has not gotten a referral from a law enforcement agency, Chief Deputy District Attorney Daniel Underwood said.
He said anyone with concerns should contact the Fair Political Practices Commission. Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman Jay Wierenga said questions about the legality of the gift certificate giveaway should be directed to the Secretary of State’s Office.
An inquiry to the California Secretary of State’s Office about the incentive was not answered by midafternoon Thursday.
Drew Phelps of Tulare, who opposes Measure I, said he went to the event and saw someone from the Yes on Measure I group carrying five to 10 ballots across the street to the post office.
Chris Northcraft of Tulare, who also opposes Measure I, said she saw a flier for the Yes on I event offering free hot dogs, school supplies and the gift certificate offer.
She said she went to the event and saw two people get help with completing ballots and then leave them with the Yes on Measure I table.
“I find it kind of disgusting to offer inducements in an election,” she said. “It didn’t smack of fairness. I just don’t think that’s how democracy is supposed to work.”
She said she filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s investigative services division.
I find it kind of disgusting to offer inducements in an election.
Chris Northcraft, Measure I opponent
Andalon said he believes the gift certificate drawing is legal.
He said he got the idea from a voting campaign in Southern California.
“They put a big $25,000 for anyone who cast a vote,” he said.
But, Andalon said, “we’re thinking about not doing it again in light of some of the questions and people not seeing the positive perspective.”
The event at Zumwalt Park was meant to be “a fun activity” – the event included a bounce house, he said – that included an opportunity to reward a lucky person who simply did their civic duty by voting.
The No on Measure I campaign Facebook page posted an alleged script for a Yes on Measure I phone solicitation saying those who voted could enter a drawing for a $100 grocery giveaway ticket, of which there were 100.
But Andalon said the Yes on Measure I campaign has no connection to the alleged script.
“It is not something our campaign put out,” he said.