October 19, 2012
FREDERICK, MARYLAND — On Election Day, Nov. 6, millions of Americans will cast their vote for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for U.S President.
But The Perfect Truffle, a chocolate shop in Frederick, Maryland, is giving customers an opportunity to vote ahead of time.
Making chocolate is chef Randy Olmstead’s specialty and passion. And this election season, he has cooked up something special for his customers: a political truffle campaign. He came up with the idea during the 2008 presidential election, to see which candidate would get the chocolate vote.
“We had our very first African-American candidate and it was a situation which I wanted to be part of, because it was historic for our country," Olmstead says. "So what we started doing, let’s find out how people really feel and what better way than to create a Democratic chocolate and a Republican chocolate?”
The Democratic truffle has a donkey on its dark chocolate shell; the Republican truffle has an elephant - the emblems of the two major U.S. political parties. Democratic truffles are on the left side of the display case, Republican truffles to the right, with a narrow aisle between them.
Olmstead is often surprised by his customers’ reactions to his political chocolate.
“We'll have a person come in, buys some Democratic chocolates and the person standing behind him will come and go, ‘How many did they just buy?’ ‘They just bought four.’ ‘OK, give me eight of the other party.'”
Frederick is a conservative small town in Maryland, a state which usually elects Democrats.
“We’re in a district, within our House of Representatives, in which we’ve had a Republican representative now for many, many terms," Olmstead says. "So there is a kind of split.”
His customers reflect that split. Often, he says, his truffle campaign sparks political discussions among them about the campaign and the issues.
“Sometimes people don’t talk about them with their neighbors because they get emotional about it. It can cause rifts, if two people are extremely different in their viewpoints, and you live next to that person, sometimes you're a little wary of doing that. But to walk in here and then see the political chocolate, they go, 'Oh, I need one of those Democratics,' or 'Oh, I need a Republican.'"
Melissa Buckman, a regular customer, likes the truffle campaign. She points out that chocolate is a bipartisan favorite.
“You can meet up in a chocolate store and start talking politics, I thought that’s a pretty neat idea,” she says. “A lot of people have bad feelings towards each other. It gets really personal. So I think this is just a fun way to kind of make amends with each other and say, 'hey, let's go vote at the chocolate shop!'”
Tim Eichelberger, who learned about the campaign online, savors the taste of chocolate and democracy.
“We can all come together, cast our vote and eat chocolate - to me, it’s an excellent way to celebrate the election," he says. "And it is something to celebrate, understanding that there are still people who struggle with the right to vote. So we just have it so readily here, it’s absolutely something to be celebrated, and this is a perfect way to do it.”
Olmstead keeps an unofficial vote count.
“Our numbers as of right now: the Democrats are ahead, 178 votes to 146 votes," he says. "And if my math is correct, people can check that, the Democrats are 55 percent of the total vote. This is not scientific at all. You walk in. We take a pen. We do a check mark.”
The numbers are constantly changing. Each Tuesday through election day, updates will be posted on the store’s website. Olmstead hopes his campaign will help raise political participation, and sales of chocolate.