Is offering something for an incredibly inflated price a valid offer?

Over in this thread, Siam Sam makes what is, in my opinion, a blatantly obvious joke about how sure he is of his voting convictions that he will only “consider” changing his vote if someone gives him $1 million. The first response is from someone pointing out that it’s illegal to sell your vote, and he’s quick to clarify that he’s not offering to vote a certain way, just offering to reconsider his position.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Sam really did jokingly offer to sell his vote for $1million. Does such a clearly exaggerated offer even constitute a valid attempt to sell one’s vote? It is obvious to anyone who thinks for a moment that $1 million is far too much to pay for a single vote, so it must be a joke. Would it still be illegal?

I have picked up the basics of contract law from reading on this boards, that a contract must involve an offer, consideration, and acceptance. If someone were to pony up the $1 mil, then it sounds like all three conditions would be met. However, I’m wondering if the very fact that Sam could reasonably assume that no one would ever accept his offer would make the contract invalid.

This is a pure hypothetical, so I don’t really care which set of laws are involved. I’m not planning to make any absurd offers to commit illegal actions.

I don’t see the “acceptance” here. There are some circumstances under which offers are binding so they imply acceptance automatically, but that’s not clear here.

I think there are too many concepts going on here in the OP. At the very least there is a contract formation issue, a criminal action issue, and attempted criminal action issue. A lot of these issues are resolved with: it depends. The actual law in question is not provided, so it’s hard to evaluate an actor’s (Sam’s) actions. You also don’t have the rest of the scenario fleshed out for an accurate contract formation action.

The contract formation question, though, can be assumed if some facts are assumed, namely that Sam made an offer to an identifiable third party. I didn’t link to the thread, so for now, I assume that some third party, “VB” (vote buyer) is looking to buy a vote. Is such an action illegal? Probably not, AFAIK no such law exists IRL. Sam simply declares that he is willing to change his vote for $1M.

However, in the OP, VB doesn’t exist. Sam has merely made an offer. So, where is the acceptance? There is none. There is no contract.

Assume VB then does accept the offer, saying merely “I accept,” may or may not form the contract, it depends if there is an actual consensus ad idem, i.e. are parties serious about going through with it. The OP does not have any other facts to establish this either. It can be reasonably construed that one or both parties weren’t serious. Other factors need to be present: e.g. did someone bring money; is there any evidence that such promises were made in jest; is there a violation of the statutes of frauds (i.e. does it need to be writing, does it violate the MY LEGS test?).

Under a more formalist theory, not only does one need an offer and acceptance, but there must also be consideration, legality, capacity as well as the aforementioned consensus ad idem. The consideration in the OP is specific: $1M, where is the money? Is this legal? Addressed more thoroughly below, but right now unknowable as there is no law quoted. Is Sam able to make this offer?

Is selling the vote illegal? It depends on what the law says. But, if there is no contract, how exactly is the vote being sold? Is there an attempt to sell a vote law? AFAIK, IRL, no such law exists.

There was the case of the Harrier for 250,000 box tops or whatever it was and the dude sued for breach of contract. The Judge ruled that you couldn’t reasonably assume you really will get a Fighter Jet, and ruled against the guy, but the fact it went to a judge seems to imply there is some legal latitude of doubt on what is an ‘obviously fictitious’ offer.

If the offer is deemed to be a serious one by judge and jury then it’s illegal. If judge and jury deem it as a non-offer then it is not illegal. Whther judge and jury will consider it a serious offer depends on the circumstances but an absurdly high price is not enough in itself to deem the offer non-serious.

T.E. Lawrence wanted to copyright his work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom without publishing it but the law required it to be published so he made six copies and offered them for sale at a price so high that it meant they would never be sold and this was considered valid (one assumes if such an offer were to be made he would probably have changed his mind). He later made several editions intended for sale because he needed the money.

On to the theoreticals.
IANAL (but I work with them), and it seems to me that contract law is not the right approach. This is a criminal law question. A valid contract is not necessary to violate most criminal statutes, even if some kind of agreement between two people is necessary for the crime to actually be committed.

The question is whether

  1. is offering to sell your vote illegal? ; and
  2. is “But I was just joking” a valid defense?

The answer to 1) depends on the details of the law in that jurisdiction. I’d be very surprised if there was no federal law covering vote-buying, but have no idea if merely offering to do so would violate the law.

But the answer to 2) is probably ‘Yes’. Some violations don’t require intent (speeding, manslaughter), but most do (murder). I’d be willing to be that any judge would put vote-buying into the ‘needs intent’ category. Not saying he has to believe that you were joking, but if he does, that’s enough to get you off.

Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc.

It’s interesting (though story-deflating) to note that this wasn’t a kid who collected a ton of bottle caps; one was allowed to purchase Pepsi Points at 10 cents a pop, and so he just sent in a certified check for (all but $1.50 of) the amount.

So as a result, was he (or, his lawyer) out the 700k? Any word on what happened to all those pepsi points?

A contract for an illegal activity not a valid contract.

I have no idea why, but this reminds me of the old joke:

Man: Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?
Woman: Um, yeah, I guess I would.
Man: How about for 20 bucks?
Woman: What?!? Just what do you think I am?
Man: We’ve already established that. Now we’re haggling over the price.

Since I was the one who pointed out this violation of the law, here are some cites on it.

Minnesota Statute 211B.13 BRIBERY, TREATING, AND SOLICITATION says that both a ‘vote buyer’ and a ‘vote seller’ are guilty of a felony. It’s pretty comprehensive: it covers anyone who “advances, pays, gives, promises, or lends any money, food, liquor, clothing, entertainment, or other thing of monetary value”. And there is no need for a contract or actual sale of the vote: just the offer is in itself a felony.

The Federal law is 42 U.S.C. 1973i©, 18 U.S.C. 597, 608(b). It appears less strict than the Minnesota Statutes, in that a ‘vote seller’ must actually accept payment to violate this law. “Persons must not pay, offer to pay or accept payment for voting, registering to vote, withholding their vote, or voting for or against any candidate in any election that includes a federal candidate.”

The OP already establishes as a given that offering to sell one’s vote is illegal. That is not the question being asked. This is the question being asked:

The answer to that question is that if judge and jury agree that such a “clearly exaggerated offer” “must be a joke” then it is not illegal because there is no real offer. Just like if I jokingly say I’d kill my wife so I could marry Angelina Jolie. Context is everything. If I said it jokingly in public to my friends and everyone knows I am joking about how much I like Angelina Jolie then no jury is going to convict me but if I say in private to a man who says he is willing to do murder for hire that I want him to kill my wife and I will pay him and the offer has all the signs of being serious then a jury might convict me. Juries are assumed to take context into account and to have a modest degree of common sense.

Thanks for all the replies. Looking at the Pepsi case on Wikipedia, it seems that point 2 of the decision answers my question pretty well. The judge claimed that it wasn’t a valid offer because “no reasonable person would believe that Pepsi would make a $23 million plan available for < $1 million.” So, in this case, the fact that the “offer” was significantly outside of an expected market price was a valid argument for it not being a real offer.