Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Bloomberg View: Lottery could improve turnout
Bloomberg View
First Published Aug 25 2014 10:12 am • Last Updated Aug 25 2014 10:14 am

"You gotta be in it to win it." That’s what they say about the lottery, or used to. Now some public officials in Los Angeles want to apply this logic - which is hard to argue with — to elections.

The Los Angeles Ethics Commission recently passed a resolution recommending that the city council establish an election lottery with cash prizes. Only residents who vote in city elections would be entered to win. As an experiment to increase voter turnout, it’s worth a shot.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In an ideal world, dangling prizes in front of voters wouldn’t be necessary. Even in this far-from-ideal world, it’s not the only or maybe even the best way to encourage voting: There’s moving local elections from spring to fall, for example. Or holding elections on weekends, as in Europe. Or expanding early voting, as well as the number of polling places.

Worthy ideas all. But effective? The evidence, for those reforms that have been tried, is thin. And none of these changes should preclude others from being tried. Any step that would get more voters to the polls is worth considering.

Some critics of the lottery idea see it as a cynical ploy that could harm the democratic process. But in countries that have compulsory voting — where there is a financial disincentive for not voting, the same as a financial incentive to vote — democracy has somehow survived.

In fact, the Australian experience suggests that compulsory voting — which produces turnout rates that hover around 95 percent — has improved the functioning of democracy by pushing candidates toward the center and away from partisan extremism. Could lotteries help the United States move in the same direction, by pushing up turnout and forcing candidates to engage with a broader share of the electorate? It’s worth a try.

In Los Angeles’s municipal election last year, only 23 percent of voters cast ballots. Turnout in New York City’s 2013 mayoral election was hardly any better. Perhaps those elections reflected a lack of enthusiasm for specific candidates. If so, then the apathy is endemic: Across the country, local elections typically have extremely low turnout rates. Even in U.S. presidential elections, turnout averages less than 60 percent. Globally, the U.S. ranks 120th in voter turnout.

Los Angeles could do the nation a service by trying this experiment. (The marketing campaign writes itself: You Can Win Even If Your Candidate Doesn’t!) If the program had prizes big enough to attract the public’s attention, it may even have a significant effect on turnout. To deflect criticism, the kitty could be funded with private donations.

Other privately funded experiments that used financial incentives — including anti-poverty programs — have proved useful. And lotteries have been used to encourage people to do things such as open a bank account and obey the speed limit. Maybe they would also work as a way to encourage people to vote. Hey, you never know.




Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.