What we know about the “rebate for votes” issue

On Thursday, April 19, the Kerrville Daily Times published a letter to the editor from Mayor Bonnie White with the heading, “Paying for votes?”

The mayor expressed her “astonishment” about a flyer that appeared in a housing community’s newsletter that offered a $20 rent rebate to “anyone bringing in a physical presentation of an ‘I Voted’ sticker.”

The mayor asked, “Is someone paying people to vote? Is this legal?”

The newspaper added an editorial note at the bottom of the letter: ” A spokesman with the Texas Secretary of State‚Äôs office said the office ‘strongly discourages offering any kind of financial benefit for voting, as it may constitute a violation of the Texas Penal Code on Bribery.’ On Wednesday evening, the rent rebate offer was rescinded.”

So what’s the deal? Was someone paying for votes? In a manner of speaking, yes. But here’s why the letter is misleading…

The statements above were part of a newsletter (and maybe flyer) announcing a “meet and greet” with candidates Bill Blackburn, Judy Eychner, and Delayne Sigerman. The mayor seemed to imply in her letter that these candidates had something to do with the rebate offer, and this is untrue. The candidates have no control over what promotions and offers a private landowner and landlord offers to his tenants. Further, the candidates are not attorneys for, or consultants to, any landlords, and do not have the expertise or inclination to offer legal advice to anyone — landlord or otherwise.

Meet and greets are a regular function of campaigns and take place on almost a weekly basis during campaign season. They are hosted by a variety of groups and individuals, many of which own businesses or residential rental facilities like apartments or assisted care facilities. The candidates do not have the time, energy, or inclination to investigate all of the goings-on at a location before they appear there to meet with potential voters.

Therefore, after we asked numerous questions of the candidates and others familiar with the matter, it is our conclusion that the candidates did not run afoul of any rules or laws.

Further, this rebate was not offered for a specific vote, but rather for ANY vote. In other words, the intention seems to be to increase voter turnout generally, and they did not ask for specific votes or proof of any vote for a specific candidate. There would be no way to verify who the person voted for, even if that WAS the intention. All that was asked is that a person show up wearing an “I Voted” sticker for their rebate.

The voter turnout for our citywide elections is embarrassingly low, coming in around 14% in last year’s election, and only 5% for younger voters. We must come up with creative ways to increase the voter turnout so that a wider variety of voices are represented in our city government. Was this the right idea? We’ll leave the conclusion up to you, but from all accounts, the intentions were honest.