It's an election year! That means in November, millions of people are going to stand in a really long line. If they get out of this line to use the bathroom or get refreshments, they could lose their spot, especially after the polls officially close.

This reluctance to get off the line got me thinking; is it legal, in the United States, to sell snacks to fellow voters in line? If I were to pull out a crate of fun-sized bags of potato chips and mark them up 500% after the doors close, I could make a killing. Of course, I wouldn't actually do this, as it's predatory and unethical. Could I, though? (Assume that my little venture is entirely apolitical, i.e. I wouldn't charge people differently based on whom they're voting for or where they stand on issues.)

  • I'm not sure that an answer that would apply in Ohio would also be true in Florida or California. Would narrowing this question down still be useful to you? Jan 5 '16 at 22:31
  • Sure. This question is only about sating my curiosity, so I'm honestly not too picky about the state. If held at gunpoint, I'd say New York, as that's where I live. Also, federal elections.
    – JesseTG
    Jan 5 '16 at 22:53
  • 2
    Assuming there are no local laws requiring you to have permits as well as public health and safety inspections of your food items, I know of no federal prohibiting such conduct. You may run afoul of regulations setting price ceilings on certain types of food, but generally no federal law that I know of prohibits this conduct.
    – Viktor
    Jan 5 '16 at 23:30

I didn't see any relevant federal law at 18 USC Chapter 29 - Elections and Political Activities or at 52 USC - Voting and Elections, which seemed the most likely places to find a federal law about activities specific to elections. Of course, I may have missed something.

According to Wisconsin law 5.35(5), "The municipal clerk and election inspectors shall prevent interference with and distraction of electors at polling places." It's very possible that your sale would be considered a "distraction".

Wisconsin law 12.11 deals with election bribery. Since your goods are only available to people in line for the election, it's at least possible that you could be considered to be procuring something of value to induce someone to go to the polls (although this seems shaky, especially if you're inflating the price and didn't advertise beforehand - nobody is going to vote just so they can get your bag of chips for $5 if they're available at the nearby store for $1.)

Beyond election-specific laws, you may run afoul of other more generic laws. One of my nearby polling places is at a church; I don't think you could sell things inside the church without their permission, whether or not an election was taking place. There may be laws regarding food safety, or business licenses, or marking things up when no competition is available.


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