The winner of a voter lottery that raised eyebrows in last spring's Los Angeles Unified school board election was so perplexed by the win, it crossed his mind that it might all be an elaborate hoax.
Thirty-five-year-old Ivan Rojas, a security guard who lives in Huntington Park, is now $25,000 richer, the group that sponsored the lottery announced Friday.
Rojas found out last week that he had won the unusual lottery sponsored by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. The nonprofit, which works to boost Latino voters, offered up the $25,000 prize to all participating voters in the District 5 school board runoff in May.
The contest pitted charter school administrator Ref Rodriguez against incumbent board member Bennett Kayser. Rodriguez went on to win the election with 14,201 votes to Kayser's 12,421.
Rojas said he was shocked when he got the call that he had won the lottery.
"It just has to be the most elaborate prank ever conceived, you know, because I still don’t believe it," he said.
SVREP aimed to increase Latino participation in school board elections, which typically draw less than 10 percent of registered voters. Just 7.64 percent of registered voters turned out in the May school board elections.
As it turns out, Rojas would have voted anyway, he said. He votes regularly and barely remembered the contest when he got a phone call saying he had won.
It also turns out that he won only because the initial winner selected in June did not agree to the terms that call for the release of the winner's name and photo.
Antonio Gonzalez, the president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, said there have been no legal challenges to the lottery. But in an April editorial, the Los Angeles Times called the lottery a “gimmick” that "demeans the value of voting.”
“Our job is to improve political participation,” Gonzalez said. He added the group may run the lottery again in the future.
As for what Rojas will spend his winnings on?
"Probably just going to buy like a steak," he said. "One of those Morton's expensive steaks, or something, and take my family out to dinner."