An Election Day dispatch from Strib staffer Curt Brown:
Restaurateur Stephanie Shimp said she was simply trying to promote participation in the voting process, before a call to cease from the Secretary of State’s office “blindsided” her.
Shimp, whose Blue Plate Restaurant Co. includes six popular restaurants, planned to offer 25 percent off to diners wearing red “I Voted” stickers. But the Secretary of State’s office said that constitutes an illegal incentive similar to paying people to vote, which is taboo.
"We didn’t care about any party except the party in our restaurants,” Shimp said Tuesday at her Highland Grill in St. Paul. “They said we crossed the line by incentive-izing voting.”
Her first reaction was fear. “I was scared to be told I was breaking the law,” she said. “We were completely blindsided.”
To get around the legal issues, Shimp offered discounts to diners who conveyed any awareness that it was Election Day, such as saying “Happy Election Day.” That way, the deal didn’t hinge on voting.
“I checked on-line and Starbucks and others had done similar things, so I didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said. Her group also owns the Edina and Longfellow Grills, the Groveland Tap, Three Squares Restaurant and Scusi. She hopes the increased traffic fueled by the promotion will offset revenues lost to the discount.
“We just wanted to create as much participation as we could because, as community diners, we care about these elections,” Shimp said.