Voter lottery just crazy enough to work
Our first reaction to a proposal in Arizona to hold a $1 million drawing to encourage voter turnout was that it’s crazy.
Our second reaction was that it’s just crazy enough to work.
Under the proposal, the state would randomly select a voter to receive $1 million.
Would it work? If you’ve ever watched lines form at convenience store checkouts when jackpots rise, you already know the answer to that.
Nevada is among the lowest in terms of voter participation, and such a proposal would seem to fit nicely in a state where gambling is the lifeblood. In 2002, just 31 percent of eligible Nevada residents voted in the 2002 election.
In the United States overall, voter turnout is among the lowest in the world. That means that a fraction of the population is choosing the country’s leaders.
But back to our first reaction. Wouldn’t it cheapen the election process? Wouldn’t it turn apathetic non-voters into apathetic voters who would vote randomly?
Valid concerns. But it’s an easy argument to make that the process was cheapened long ago by campaign finance laws that usually mean the race goes to the candidate with the most money and who is supported by the wealthiest donors.
And no one seems concerned about whether using lottery and gambling proceeds to fund education cheapens our schools.
The most damning criticism of the Arizona proposal is that it would bring hordes of uneducated voters to the polls who would diminish the votes of those who did take the time to learn about the candidates.
To fix that problem, there would have to be an education component for voters, perhaps as simple as brief video statements from each candidate in the voting booth on relevant issues before the machines would activate.
Incentives have long been recognized as beneficial in getting people to accomplish anything of importance. And getting people to participate in our democracy is certainly important.