Small businesses in Iowa City incentivize customers to vote

Small businesses in Iowa City are using their platforms to encourage residents to vote in the midterm elections.


Katina Zentz

A customer displays their voting sticker to an employee at Yotopia on Monday, November 5, 2018.

Kate Pixley, News Reporter

With Election Day looming, many downtown businesses have displayed signs encouraging people to vote.

Frozen yogurt shop Yotopia, 132 S. Clinton St., offers a 20.18 percent discount on orders for customers who come in on Election Day.

“I think that it’s important to remind customers of our civic duty,” Yotopia owner Veronica Tessler said. “This is a really important election that has enormous consequences on the way we live our lives, and I think it’s important to remind our customers that their voice really matters and that if they don’t share their voice through their voting, if you’re not using your voice, you’re letting others use you.”

The Deadwood, 6 S. Dubuque St., also encourages people to go to the polls. Deadwood employee Daniel Frana said that while the establishment hasn’t posted any signs, it actively urges customers to vote.

“Basically, we’ve just been encouraging people to go out and vote,” Frana said. “We don’t have any political signs up in the bar, but we’ve just been encouraging people to vote.”

Voter turnout in the June 2018 primaries in Johnson County beat the previous primary record set in the 1994, according to a tweet from Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert.

Offering voter initiatives or sales has historically been a difficult issue, because offering discounts to voters during federal elections is against 18 U.S. Code 597.

The code states, “Whoever makes or offers to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate; and whoever solicits, accepts, or receives any such expenditure in consideration of his vote or the withholding of his vote shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if the violation was willful, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”

Tessler said that she was aware of the law and used that knowledge when formulating her shop’s promotion.

RELATED: 2018 Voter Guide

“So that’s where we think our plan is … if you come in wearing an “I Voted” sticker, we will ring our cowbell,” she said. “Think of it as an Election Day froyo celebration that encourages everybody to vote and to celebrate this historic day in our country.”

Iowa City social-media startup Sculpt, 105 E. College St., has the word “VOTE” spelled out across its windows. Fliers spelling out “VOTE” contain information about registering to vote.

Austin Smoldt-Saenz, a communications designer for Sculpt, said he hopes its endorsement of voting will spur nonvoters to get registered.

“[Our goal with the posters is] to try to encourage people to get out and vote,” Smoldt-Saenz said. “Well, I guess we’re hoping to get people that haven’t considered going out to the polls to either vote early or on Election Day.”

Smoldt-Saenz also said he believes it’s important to encourage voting as a matter of civil discourse.

“I think that [the role of businesses in elections] probably depends on the business owner and the company and what they stand for,” he said. “In general, I think we should all be encouraging people to go out and vote.”