- George Washington
- Susan B. Anthony
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton
- Martin Luther King
- Lyndon Johnson
They are all turning over in their graves.
A couple days ago, I read this headline in the Wall Street Journal
“Los Angeles Weighs Cash Prizes in Bid to Lure Voters”
To my increasing dismay, the reporter wrote that the Los Angeles Ethics Commission (yes, you read that correctly … the ETHICS Commission) voted unanimously to recommend to the Los Angeles City Council that they consider offering cash prizes – a lottery, if you will – in an effort to increase voter turnout in municipal elections.
I tore out the article and set it aside thinking, surely, the next day I would see a retraction or a correction. This simply couldn’t be true.
But there was no correction in the following day’s paper. My online search confirmed what I had read. Cash prizes for voting is, indeed, working its way through the Los Angeles bureaucracy.
Voter turnout, nationwide, in municipal elections is about half what it is for federal elections, which means average turnout in municipal elections is 25% of eligible voters. Los Angeles cites their turnout in recent municipal elections in the high teens to low 20s.
Interestingly, there is ongoing national debate about whether larger turnouts are desirable, necessary and worth the effort to achieve an increase. Picture me flabbergasted to learn this is even up for discussion in our country!
Despite that debate, many municipalities have increased turnout by holding municipal elections simultaneously with federal election cycles, rather than in off years. Apparently Los Angeles has deemed that change would take too long and be too “laborious”.
Therefore they are considering a pilot program for the express purpose of determining the number of prizes and amount of prize money required to achieve a to-be-determined optimal level of voter turnout.
Depending on the source of the prize money, a ballot measure might be required to approve awarding prize money for voting. Can you envision the campaign slogan? “Please vote so we can pay you to vote”.
I can’t begin to express the range of emotions this ill-conceived idea evokes. I think of:
- people who live and die in oppressive regime-led countries where the right to vote must seem like an impossible dream
- people who risked their lives to come to the U.S., in part, because we have a constitutional right to vote
- U.S. citizens who have given their lives in foreign wars, in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and on the streets of our cities for freedoms like the right of all citizens to vote
- the potential for further voting illegalities and corruption “paying for votes” would surely create, no matter the source, intention, or desired outcome
I believe it is our responsibility, as well as our right, to vote in ALL elections – municipal, state and federal. It is also our responsibility, as voters, to become educated about the candidates and issues prior to voting. Admittedly that is a time-consuming task, and not every candidate or issue is of interest or relevance to every voter. But municipal elections matter just as much, if not more sometimes, as federal elections. The ability to access adequate information to make informed decisions has never been easier, including municipal elections.
I am a strong advocate of reforming voting processes and accommodations to ensure that EVERY eligible citizen who wants to vote has an opportunity to do so. But I draw the line between facilitating the process for those who want to vote, and paying those who have no intention of voting except for the anticipated prize money.
Has Los Angeles become so removed from our rich history of voting suppression, suffrage struggles and signature constitutional and legislative achievements that its citizens are willing to potentially cancel their votes by paying disinterested, ill-informed citizens to vote?
As always when I have a reaction this strong, I wonder what perspective I’m missing, what I’ve not understood correctly, or what piece of information might mitigate my reaction. I will keep seeking …
An internet “search” will provide many sites about this Los Angeles voting proposal.