Voting lottery considered for Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles city officials are kicking around the idea of offering lottery-type prizes as a way to boost voter participation and turnout.
The city Ethics Commission suggested today that the City Council may want to explore the idea of lottery.
The lottery idea was pitched to Council President Herb Wesson during an informal “chat” in a commission meeting.
Ethics Commission President Nathan Hochman said about 100 voters could win $1,000 cash prizes for showing up at their polling places.
The prize money could come from the city’s matching funds program, which gave out nearly $10 million to eligible candidates last year, Hochman said.
But voter approval is required before the matching funds, regulated by the city charter, could be used for prizes. So the commission suggested the council may also want to look at a different source of funding to skip the ballot process.
Hochman said a lottery might be one of the quicker ways of boosting voter turnout. The city is facing a “crisis” in which turnout has been “cascading down in a dangerous direction” since 2001, he said.
While city candidates spent $64 million on elections last year, voter turnout rates ranged from 15 to 23 percent, according to Hochman.
Wesson said the idea was “exciting” and would generate a “spirited debate.”
One of the criticisms leveled at incentive programs has been that it may draw more uninformed voters.
But Wesson said he believed incentives could draw a significant number of informed voters who forget or are too busy to vote.
California and Alaska allow voter turnout lotteries, but only for local and state elections. It is illegal in federal elections to lure voters to the polls with money.
The city also may schedule municipal elections at the same time as the higher-profile federal elections as a way to increase turnout.
A lottery system was proposed in Arizona in 2006, but a ballot measure to institute it there failed.

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