[guest post by Dana]
Concerned about low voter turnout in local elections, the city’s Ethics Commission has come up with a winning idea: pay people to vote!
On a 3-0 vote, the panel said it wanted City Council President Herb Wesson’s Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to seriously consider the use of financial incentives and a random drawing during its elections, possibly as soon as next year.
Depending on the source of city funds, the idea could require a ballot measure. Commissioners said they were unsure how big the prizes should be or how many should be offered, saying a pilot program should first be used to test the concept.
“Maybe it’s $25,000 maybe it’s $50,000,” said Commission President Nathan Hochman. “That’s where the pilot program comes in — to figure out what … number and amount of prizes would actually get people to the voting box.”
The legalities of such a decision were also addressed:
Ethics Commissioner Jessica Levinson, an attorney and professor at Loyola Law School, said the city should not have to wait until the end of the decade to take steps to improve voter participation. “We have turnout in citywide elections in the high teens and low 20s and I think that’s pretty dismal,” she said.
Federal law prohibits people from accepting payment in exchange for voting. But Levinson, who voted to pursue the lottery concept, contends that statute would not apply in an election where there are no federal positions on the ballot. California law prohibits people from using money or gifts to ensure that voters cast ballots for any particular person or measure. Money also cannot be used to keep people from voting in a particular election, according to information provided by the secretary of state’s office.
Apathetic non-voters clearly do not care enough about the candidates and legislative issues to use their privilege to vote. If the possibility of winning money draws these voters in, does anyone believe they would be casting a learned and informed vote as opposed to just filling in a ballot to win some prize money? Hm, more low-informed voters… who benefits from that?
Don’t worry, an Ethics Commission member reassures:
“When you do have these types of systems people do end up educating themselves before they go to the polls.”