Determined to strike a blow against voter apathy, South Bay auto repair shop owner Luis Masias has offered $100 to each of his employees who casts a ballot in Tuesday's election.
The plan, announced last week, has sparked keen interest at Masias' two Honda repair centers in Torrance and a third in Manhattan Beach, which employ 16 people. Said Sharon Roney, secretary at one of the Torrance shops: "With an incentive like that, how can you turn it down?"
Election officials, however, recommend that the employees find a way.
Accepting or offering such rewards is prohibited if the election involves candidates for federal office, they say. With congressional candidates set to appear on Tuesday's ballot, that makes Masias' offer illegal.
"You can't give anybody anything--you can't even give them a paper clip," Melissa Warren, a spokeswoman for the California secretary of state's office, said Friday. "It is very definitely against the law."
An official with the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said his office may look into Masias' offer.
"I think there's a potential violation here," said William Fahey, chief of the U.S. attorney's public corruption section. "But I'd have to find out a little bit more about the circumstances of the offer."
Masias, whose three repair centers all go by the name Luis' Shop, remains defiant.
"I'm not hurting anybody by saying, 'Please go and vote for whoever you want, or whatever you want, even if I have to give you money,' " he said after learning of the legal problem surrounding his offer. "I wouldn't mind fighting it. I don't care what it costs me."
If he fails, it could cost him a lot. Those convicted of giving--or receiving--rewards for voting face penalties of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If the violation is willful, the maximum penalty becomes two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Masias, 45, says he decided to offer the $100 voting incentive out of frustration with public attitudes toward politics.
A native of Peru who became a U.S. citizen last year, he says too many Americans are poorly informed about politics and don't bother voting. He says in Peru, where voting is mandatory, citizens follow politics closely.
"Here, sports is more popular than politics," the Rancho Palos Verdes resident said. "All everyone talks about is (hockey star) Wayne Gretzky, people like that."
Masias said his greatest frustration is with people who complain about the government but fail to go to the polls. To help remedy that, he said, he made his offer: "I'm willing to spend money just to see people voting."
Masias announced his incentives last week in an advertisement published in a local newspaper that serves the beach cities. The ad was not his first. Last year, he bought a half-page spread to protest flag burning.
The auto repair shop owner's latest effort did not surprise those who know him. Said Paul Saben, one of Masias' service managers: "Since Luis' American citizenship came through, he's always been gung-ho America."
Warren, of the secretary of state's office, said state law does not address offers like the one by Masias. But because such incentives are prohibited by a federal statute, she said, the practice is prohibited in California elections that include contests for federal office.
She added that if Masias wanted to use his cash offer to boost turnout for a special state Assembly election, for instance, there would be no problem.