Sunday, January 04, 2009


On Election Day a national coffee-shop chain in the United States offered a free cup of coffee to anyone who told the clerk that he or she had voted. Would you consider telling the clerk that you already voted, in order to get the free coffee, even if you hadn't, if you knew that you were going to vote later in the day?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

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swag said...

I would have been mortified that my café flagrantly encouraged violation of federal and state election laws by bribing people to vote.

Gossip_girl said...

It is a violation of laws to try to purchase a vote. I don't see this in the actions of the coffee shop. There is no mention of encouraging people to vote for one candidate over the other, or providing the coffee prior to the vote, which is where illegalities come into play.

On the contrary, the coffee was provided after the vote was cast, no matter how one voted (and even without proof one voted) as an additional reward beyond the self-satisfaction for civic participation.

It's also possible voters chose not to reveal they qualified for their free cup.

Bill Jacobson said...

LOL! Jeffrey, I was faced with specifically this quandry on election day! While I did consider jumping for the free cup of coffee pre-voting, I did relent and do the ethical thing by holding off. I had my fiancee's free cup instead when she opted for the upgraded cup, which is what Starbuck wanted anyway. :) Beautiful sales technique!

And Starbucks rewarding voting is NOT illegal vote-buying.

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA

Anonymous said...


I hope I’m wrong, but this is kind of like the coupon return issue, I think. The coffee shop owner is probably less interested in the integrity of the folks who said they voted (or might vote) than he/she is in generating business. His/her intent, I suspect, in rewarding people for their participation in the democratic process, is to get some business rewards as a result.

To be sure, that doesn’t answer your question, but you phrased it with an instant “out,” namely, “Would you consider … ?” Who among us hasn’t “considered” an option and rejected it? Personally (although I am no longer a coffee drinker), I would tell the clerk that I will vote later in the day, but if that’s not good enough, I would ask him or her if I would get a free cup of coffee the next day when I told him/her that I did in fact vote the day before.

To really tell the truth, I would turn down the offer and say it’s my responsibility (and everybody else’s) to vote, so thanks anyway, but I’ll pass up your offer. It’s like giving blood. When I first donated what is now over 10 gallons of blood, I was entitled to four hours off of work at my federal government job. After a while I realized that “the right thing” was to just give blood and forget the time off.

Delicious Dishings said...

I heard that this coffee shop had to give free coffee to everyone regardless of whether they had voted due to it being illegal to bribe people when it comes to voting. I voted and bought my coffee at said coffee shop not because I had any problem with them giving out a free coffee but because I only like fancy coffee drinks. I think anything to encourage people to get out and vote is a good thing...