November 7, 2006

Promote the vote

This issue is coming out on Election Day, and if you’re registered in Hyde Park, the election must not seem that inspiring. There’s no Illinois Senate race, and even if there were, it wouldn’t be competitive. The incumbent is secure in the gubernatorial race. Nothing is brewing in the House race, and local elections seem firmly in the hands of the machines that run this city.

The only factor likely to woo the average voter to the ballot box is a sense of satisfaction from fulfilling a civic duty. Sadly, this historically has not been much of a draw for two out of every five American voters.

But if local judges and school board elections don’t inspire you to vote, how about a million bucks? Is that something you could be interested in?

In one of the more interesting issues on the ballot this November, a referendum in Arizona would give $1 million to a randomly selected voter. Essentially, voting would be more than just casting a ballot; it would also be registering for a statewide raffle that would yield big returns for one lucky voter. If passed, many other states could soon propose similar bills.

Before launching a diatribe on the erosion of civic pride, think of the effect a voting lottery would have on an election. Normal state lotteries tend to predominantly attract the poor, the same population that votes the least and often feels the most disenfranchised (including Hyde Park residents, it should be noted). The cost of such a lottery would be an insignificant expenditure for the state, and it would give people a tangible motivation to vote. However you think a lottery might reflect on America’s sense of civic duty, wouldn’t more voters be a plus—in any way, shape, or form?

Granted, there is a possibility of apathetic voters coming to the poll for purely financial reasons. That is often the case for some voters as is. But the act of voting itself naturally implies some form of self-interest, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

There will always be uninformed or misinformed voters in an election, but a lottery would give people who normally wouldn’t think about elections a reason to talk about and seriously consider candidates. Thus, some of these people could even make for more informed voters.

There’s no reason to maintain an elitist notion of a “good vote” or “bad vote”—a voter is a voter, and the more the merrier. A lottery wouldn’t do enough to hurt the voting scene, but it may do just enough to help. Illinois should follow up on Arizona’s idea and make sure that the vote always gets out.