A river runs through Off-Ramp for June 7, 2014

How to boost voter turnout: Cast a ballot to win $1M lottery?

LAPL/Herald-Examiner collection

"Numerous voters, desiring to spend the holiday at the beaches, dropped into their polling places clad in bathing suits on August 26, 1930. Here is Mrs. Lucile Wheat. Election officials gave instructions on the use of the machines."

KPCC's Frank Stoltze talks with political scientist Fernando Guerra about instituting a million-dollar lottery to boost voter turnout in California.

People have floated all kinds of ideas to increase voter turnout — voting on the weekend, mail-in ballots, making the ballots easier to read — but turnout keeps falling.

As KPCC's Sharon McNary reported after this week's primary election:

At just 13 percent, L.A. County had the lowest voter participation rate of any county in California on Tuesday. Fewer than one-in-eight registered voters cast a ballot, according to the County Registrar's tally. The state voter turnout average was about 5 percentage points higher.

13% (even 18%) is embarrassingly low for a — you know — democracy. It's probably worse than Egypt's recent presidential election.

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Fernando Guerra, of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University (and a member of KPCC's board) is fed up, and talking with KPCC's Frank Stoltze, he pushed a radical proposal to increase turnout: everybody who casts a ballot would be eligible to win a million dollars.

Guerra says one selling point of such a lottery is that the odds would be much better than the other state-sponsored lotteries. It's not clear, he says, if it violates federal law, but it might be possible if no federal candidates are on the ballot.

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Frank asked the million-dollar question: "Wouldn't we get a lot of people who know nothing about politics or the candidates jumping in and voting and just checking the box so they could get a million bucks?"

"Absolutely," Guerra responded, as Frank's jaw dropped. "And that might produce better results. There is no data to show that uninformed voters make worse decisions than informed voters."

To prove his point, Guerra mentioned two names: "Leland Yee and Calderon, etc. Those were all elected by informed voters." (Despite being arrested for corruption, arms trafficking, and consorting with someone named "Shrimp Boy," state Senator Leland Yee still got 300,000 votes for Secretary of State Tuesday.)

Guerra says a crowd has "instinct," and the larger the crowd, the better.

Frank told Guerra this is blasphemy to a lot of people. "I know that," Guerra responded, "but they should get over it."


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