Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Will $1 Million Get You To Vote?

Mark Osterloh, a former Democratic candidate for Arizona Governor, and current force behind the Arizona Voter Reward Act, is betting that the chance for $1 million will get you to the polls. (Arizona Ballot Could Become Lottery Ticket - NY Times log-in)

Osterloh's idea, which will appear on the Arizona ballot this November for voter approval, is for a random drawing after each election to select one (or more) winners from the ranks of those who voted. The awards would be paid for from uncollected lottery winnings (currently about $1 million in the state), private donations (including potential in-kind donations, such as automobiles), and (you guessed it) the state's general fund.

The purpose behind the initiative is to increase voter turn-out. People like to buy lottery tickets, therefore they'll be more likely to vote if their ballot is a chance at a million bucks. "People buy a lot of lottery tickets now," Mr. Osterloh said, "and the odds of winning this are much, much higher."

I appreciate and applaud the motivation behind this act, but have to disagree with the method. I am in favor of any legitimate reforms to our electoral system that would create an informed electorate that looks forward to voting in high numbers, but I do not favor any form of bribery or coercion.

Real reform starts with the system. It evens the playing field so that non-incumbents have a chance at election. It removes the influence money plays in who gets elected. It allows more voices to be heard than just the two major party lines. It makes citizens feel that their vote makes a difference and that there are candidates who represent their views. Real reform is not a cheap publicity gimmick.

It is true that this Voter Reward Act could increase voter turnout. But a voter who is only in the booth for a chance at a prize is not likely to take the ballot very seriously. As in the case of mandatory voting, the voter is only there to mark a few boxes randomly as a means of meeting a requirement.

Yes, I want more voters. But I want more informed voters. I want more involved voters. I want voters who are there to make a difference, not to get a prize.

Of course, I wouldn't turn down the money if I won it... but, no.

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