After several elections with dismally low voter turnout, Los Angeles officials are looking at a plan to pay people to vote.
It is against federal law to pay people to cast a ballot, so any program would omit elections that include federal candidates or initiatives. It is against California law to pay people to vote a certain way, but the idea under consideration is aimed at getting people to show up at the polls and vote however they choose.
The Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted 3-0 last week to recommend the idea to the City Council. Rather than paying every voter, a lottery would be set up and prizes would be awarded to someone who participated in voting.
"Maybe it's $25,000 maybe it's $50,000," Commission President Nathan Hochman told the Los Angeles Times
. "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."
Last year's mayor's election saw only 23 percent voter participation, and Tuesday's special school board election didn't even reach 10 percent.
"I would say our turnout is abysmal, and it's embarrassing," City Council President Herb Wesson told The Wall Street Journal
Money for the lottery could be taken from unused candidate matching funds the city has set aside. If so, a public referendum would be required to alter the city's charter.
The idea will now be taken to meetings across the city to gather input, with anyone's guess on how they'll turn out.
"After the hearings, this may go down like a lead balloon," Wesson said.
Los Angeles has been looking for other ways to boost voter turnout, including moving its elections from odd- to even-numbered years.
Arizona once tried something similar. In 2006, the state wanted to award $1 million to one lucky voter through a lottery system, but the idea failed to pass a ballot initiative.
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