Were the hot dogs nonpartisan? That is the big question.
Chattanooga Moms for Social Justice and the Hamilton County Democratic Party sponsored an event called "Cookout the Vote" at Brainerd Recreation Center last week.
The event, according to an article in The Tennessee Conservative, may have violated state law prohibiting bribing voters. The law states no one is allowed to "pay, loan, contribute, or offer or promise to pay, loan or contribute any money, property, or other valuable thing, to or for any voter, or to or for any other person, to induce such voter or any voter to vote ."
We think such a charge is a stretch.
The original social media post invited voters to "Early Vote & Get Dinner (on us!)." It asked them to bring their "I voted" sticker or just tell those in charge that you voted ("we'll believe you!").
Both sponsoring organizations later deleted the original post and rebranded the event a "Community Cook Out."
The article said complaints were made to both the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance and the Tennessee secretary of state's office. Both offices referred the complainants to other offices, it said.
We can't imagine the matter being pursued very far for several reasons:
> The social media posts didn't suggest voters should stop there first to eat perhaps in exchange for a Democratic vote (which sponsors could never affirm anyway). That, to us, would have come closer to violating the Tennessee statute.
(It also seems to us this is the opposite of what the controversial — to some — 2021 Georgia law, which prohibited political organizations from handing out food and drink to people waiting in line to vote within a certain distance of the polling place, was put in place to stop. However, the new law allows water to be put out by election officials for voters.)
> Nothing in the posts said hot dogs (and chips!) would be distributed only to those who vowed they had voted for Democrats or that Republican voters happy to share for whom they voted would be turned away.
> The hours for early voting at Brainerd Recreation Center overlapped the event by only half an hour. Voters who voted there from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. presumably were out of luck for the fancy feast unless they had prior knowledge of it and came back to dine. The social media posts said the event went on until 7 p.m., an hour after the polls closed.
> The table where the repast was served appeared to be well away from the center where citizens voted. According to Tennessee law, within 100 feet from the entrance to the building where people vote, "the display of campaign posters, signs or other campaign materials, distribution of campaign materials, and solicitation of votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question are prohibited."
Our concern, if we thought this was an overtly political act to sway voters, would be why a political party was allowed to set up shop — for electioneering, hot dogs or cat grooming — on city property. If the voting site were on private property, and the party had permission from the owner, we don't see a problem. But a partisan activity on city property is not a good look, especially when city elections are said to be nonpartisan.
The Tennessee Conservative goes on to detail alleged violations by Chattanooga Moms for Social Justice, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits making public statements (verbal or written) in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
The article cites social media posts on the organization's page supporting District 11 Hamilton County Board of Education Democratic candidate Jill Black and a Facebook page photo which touts "I turned Hamilton County BLUE at The #BLUEBASH!"
How far anybody pursues the alleged violation, like the hot dog affair, is anybody's guess. But we would suspect it would be more trouble than it's worth.
We're just not sure a hot dog and chips (after the fact) are going to change many minds. But if they'd offered potato salad, baked beans, drinks and a homemade dessert, that might be a different story!
We just encourage voters — who missed early voting — to go to the polls Thursday.
The Chattanooga Free Press recommends, in contested races:
> County Mayor: Weston Wamp
> County Commission, District 6: Ruth Jeno
> County Commission, District 9: Steve Highlander
> County Commission, District 11: Joe Graham
> District Attorney: Coty Wamp
> General Sessions Court Judge, District 3: Gerald Webb Jr.
> County Clerk: W.F. "Bill" Knowles
> County School Board, District 3: Joe Smith
> County School Board, District 5: Charles Paty
> County School Board, District 6: Ben Connor
> County School Board, District 8: No endorsement
> County School Board, District 10: Faye Robinson
> County School Board, District 11: Virginia Anne Manson
> Chattanooga City Council, District 8: Marvene Noel
Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EDT.
Opinion: How will Hamilton County's likely new mayor work with a likely new Lookouts stadium project?