With not even a quarter of registered voters showing up for local elections last year, Los Angeles is ready to try just about anything to convince residents to do their civic duty. Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed changing elections from odd to even years to increase turnout as it would better coincide with national elections.
The Los Angeles Ethics Commission has a different tactic in mind—one that will likely be watched by municipalities across the country. The commissioners voted unanimously last week to recommend that the City Council consider cash prizes to entice voters in Los Angeles. A pilot program could begin as early as next year if approved.
“Maybe it’s $25,000, maybe it’s $50,000,” commission President Nathan Hochman told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”
Voter turnout has been steadily decreasing in Los Angeles: 23 percent of voters cast ballots in the 2013 mayoral election, down from 37 percent in 2001.
The proposal comes on the heels of August’s school board election, in which only 8 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls. Federal law prohibits paying the public to vote, so the lottery program would not be applied to ballots for presidential elections or other federal offices.
The decision not to vote varies from person to person, but FairVote.org attributes the low turnout to “political disengagement and the belief that voting for one candidate/party or another will do little to alter public policy.”
Countries such as Chile, Belgium, and Australia fine their citizens for not voting. The right to vote, or not vote, may seem an obvious tenet of democracy, yet the U.S. voter turnout has nothing on Australia’s 90 percent.
Los Angeles isn't suggesting compulsory voting; the city is just considering a little cash to sweeten the deal for its citizens—and avoid further humiliation.
"I would say our turnout is abysmal, and it's embarrassing," City Council President Herb Wesson told The Wall Street Journal.
The proposal is still in its earliest stages, as the Los Angeles City Council needs to approve a plan, and depending on the source of the funds, the program could require a ballot measure.
High voter percentage is universally recognized as preferable over a minority of citizens deciding the fate of our democracy, but is dangling cash in front of uniformed voters the way to go?
Arizona considered a similar cash plan back in 2006, but the idea did not make it to a ballot initiative. Los Angeles’ plan has a great deal of initial support and could wind up on the ballot. But if left up to the residents who show up to vote, will they want to bring in uninformed people who are only voting because they could make some money?
Related stories on TakePart:
Original article from TakePart
- Politics & Government
- Los Angeles
- City Council