Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Low Turnouts Prompt L.A. to Consider Offering Prizes to Vote

Alarmed that fewer than one-fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure a greater number of people to the polls.

By David Zahniser

 

Alarmed that fewer than one-fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure a greater number of people to the polls.

 

On a 3-0 vote, the panel said it wanted City Council President Herb Wesson's Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to seriously consider the use of financial incentives and a random drawing during its elections, possibly as soon as next year.

 

Depending on the source of city funds, the idea could require a ballot measure. Commissioners said they were unsure how big the prizes should be or how many should be offered, saying a pilot program should first be used to test the concept.

 

"Maybe it's $25,000 maybe it's $50,000," said Commission President Nathan Hochman. "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."

 

Only 23% percent of registered voters cast ballots in last year's mayoral election, prompting suggested solutions from an array of civic leaders. On Tuesday, turnout in a special school board election fell below 10%, according to preliminary numbers.

 

The idea of an election day lottery came up Thursday during an appearance by Wesson before the commission. During that discussion, Hochman suggested that surplus matching funds -- money provided to candidates who agree to certain spending restrictions -- could cover the cost of election day prizes.

 

That dialogue with Wesson, Hochman said, spurred the commission to act a few hours later.

 

"When I heard that he really wants to consider this, and was enthused and excited about this out-of-the-box idea, I thought, 'Let's get an action item before his committee,'" Hochman said.

 

Wesson said he was indeed intrigued by the idea of a drawing or lottery but would first want to hear what neighborhood councils, his colleagues and assorted "legal beagles" think about the idea.

 

"I can't wait to have this conversation," he said. "But don't get me wrong. Don't think I'm going to run around being the poster child" for the proposal.

 

The commission's vote comes as Los Angeles political leaders examine various proposals for getting more people to the polls. A citizen commission formed by Wesson and Mayor Eric Garcetti recommended two months ago that the city boost turnout by moving from odd- to even-numbered election years.

 

The LA 2020 Commission, another panel convened by Wesson, offered a similar recommendation in April.

 

Still, a move to even-numbered years could take several years, since it would likely require turning over the city's election operations to the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/clerk. The changeover won't be possible until the county adopts a new voting system, city officials said.

 

Ethics Commissioner Jessica Levinson, an attorney and professor at Loyola Law School, said the city should not have to wait until the end of the decade to take steps to improve voter participation. "We have turnout in citywide elections in the high teens and low 20s and I think that's pretty dismal," she said.

 

Federal law prohibits people from accepting payment in exchange for voting. But Levinson, who voted to pursue the lottery concept, contends that statute would not apply in an election where there are no federal positions on the ballot.

 

California law prohibits people from using money or gifts to ensure that voters cast ballots for any particular person or measure. Money also cannot be used to keep people from voting in a particular election, according to information provided by the secretary of state's office.

 

Hochman said an election day lottery would simply require that people enter the voting booth -- not cast a particular vote.

 

"If they truly think there are no good candidates, we're not going to force them" to choose one, he said. "What the studies have shown is, if you get people to the voting booths and they're being incentivized to be there ... over time they will vote for someone."

 

(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times

Special Projects
Sponsored Stories
Sponsored
Workplace safety is in the spotlight as government leaders adapt to a prolonged pandemic.
Sponsored
While government employees, students and the general public had to wait in line for hours in the beginning of the pandemic, at-home test kits make it easy to diagnose for the novel coronavirus in less than 30 minutes.
Sponsored
Governments around the nation are working to design the best vaccine policies that keep both their employees and their residents safe. Although the latest data shows a variety of polarizing perspectives, there are clear emerging best practices that leading governments are following to put trust first: creating policies that are flexible and provide a range of options, and being in tune with the needs and sentiments of their employees so that they are able to be dynamic and accommodate the rapidly changing situation.
Sponsored
Service delivery and the individual experience within health and human services (HHS) is often very siloed and fragmented.
Sponsored
In this episode, Marianne Steger explains why health care for Pre-Medicare retirees and active employees just got easier.
Sponsored
Government organizations around the world are experiencing the consequences of plagiarism firsthand. A simple mistake can lead to loss of reputation, loss of trust and even lawsuits. It’s important to avoid plagiarism at all costs, and government organizations are held to a particularly high standard. Fortunately, technological solutions such as iThenticate allow government organizations to avoid instances of text plagiarism in an efficient manner.
Sponsored
Creating meaningful citizen experiences in a post-COVID world requires embracing digital initiatives like secure and ethical data sharing, artificial intelligence and more.
Sponsored
GHD identified four themes critical for municipalities to address to reach net-zero by 2050. Will you be ready?
Sponsored
As more state and local jurisdictions have placed a priority on creating sustainable and resilient communities, many have set strong targets to reduce the energy use and greenhouse gases (GHGs) associated with commercial and residential buildings.