AN ELECTION DAY LOTTERY DEMEANS THE VALUE OF VOTING: A nonprofit voter group has a plan to turn around traditionally abysmal turnout for a key election to the Los Angeles Board of Education …it's going to pay one lucky voter $25,000
“Gonzalez said his group has concluded that handing out a $25,000 cash prize is legal in California but would violate federal law” …what part of ‘violates federal law’ is so hard to understand?
“ Venture capitalist/Alliance Charter Schools board co-chair Antony Ressler, on the District 1 LAUSD School Board Election: “10000 votes for School board race... Crazy that we have a publicly elected school board... This is NOT what democracy is supposed to be. No one in LA cares TR” - e-mail to Jamie Alter Lynton on Jun 5, 2014, at 10:04 PM | WikiLeaks Sony Hack #126221
I am racking my brain and Googling like mad – and I haven’t found it yet: There was an absurdity by The Firesign Theater back in the sixties that followed the prompt: “Knowing that wrong thought creates electrical resistance, it seemed possible….”
The following is like that: Let’s muck about with the democratic process and make it better: What could possibly go wron9?
Nonprofit hopes $25,000 prize lures L.A. schools' District 5 voters
By Howard Blume | LA Times | http://lat.ms/1G3f5Tn
Low voter turnout is an ongoing problem. But a nonprofit thinks a $25,000 prize drawing could be a solution. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times)
20 April 2015 :: Those who cast ballots in the race for District 5 in the May 19 election will be entered in a drawing.
The idea is the brainchild of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.
"This is an experiment, a nontraditional out-of-the-box strategy" because "participation has gotten so bad," said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the organization, which focuses on increasing voter turnout, especially within the Latino community.
The March primary for the school board drew marginal voter interest in a citywide election that also failed to attract much interest.
Three board races are going to a May runoff. Southwest Voter Registration is especially interested in District 5, because about 57% of registered voters there are Latino.
Challenger Ref Rodriguez finished first against incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is seeking a second term.
Voter turnout was just under 12% in the area, which includes Los Feliz and Silver Lake as well as an economically diverse range of Latino neighborhoods, including the cities of southeastern L.A. County.
The most notable dividing point between Kayser and Rodriguez is over independently managed charter schools, which are exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses.
Kayser has tried to limit their growth; Rodriguez co-founded one of the largest charter organizations, People Uplifting Communities.
"If overall turnout is higher, it's hard to say what the effect would be," said Dan Chang, who directs a political action committee that has endorsed Rodriguez. "If there is higher turnout among Latinos, the conventional wisdom is that Ref Rodriguez will do better — a Latino candidate with a Latino surname."
Both campaigns pushed hard to win the Latino vote in the bitter, high-cost primary and said they are doing so again.
Gonzalez's nonpartisan group hasn't endorsed either candidate. And his lottery strategy could increase turnout among all ethnicities.
He calls the idea "voteria," a play on the Spanish term "lotería," for lottery.
In its current form, the area's voting boundaries were carved out with the idea of increasing Latino representation in a school system that is more than 70% Latino.
That hasn't happened.
Kayser is white, and that seat has had white board members for 16 of the last 20 years.
The nonprofit has never before given out money but has tried other incentives. To increase turnout in the 2004 presidential race, it held drawings to give away a new car in each of four states: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. To enter, a voter had to recruit four others.
Gonzalez said his group has concluded that handing out a $25,000 cash prize is legal in California but would violate federal law. The plan is to publicize the contest through traditional media and social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
Other recent projects have included phone banking to turn out Latinas in the 14th City Council District who voted rarely or inconsistently, and regional training sessions for Latinos considering a run for office.
The nonprofit has teamed with Earth Day Network and the NAACP to launch a nationwide effort to mobilize a million voters over the issue of climate change.
Idea of an L.A. Voteria is gaining currency
Steve Lopez: Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/1J6rpsb
Ellen Kotheimer of Venice votes by herself in June at the Los Angeles County Lifeguard station in Venice. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)
The proposal to enter L.A. voters into a cash prize lottery, for the sake of increasing turnout, is easy to attack on numerous fronts.
My first reaction to last week's recommendation by the L.A. City Ethics Commission?
Or maybe it wasn't horror so much as anger that anyone would come up with such a sad little gimmick. Throughout history, people have sacrificed their lives for the right to vote, and now we have to offer jackpots to shake people out of their laziness and apathy?
"How DUMB!!!" one reader posted on the story by my colleague David Zahniser.
"Really???!!!" said another.
The lower the turnout the easier it is to manipulate and control the messages to individual voters. - Fernando Guerra, Loyola Marymount Center for the Study of Los Angeles
Aside from the problem of turning a civic duty into a commercial gambit, there's the obvious problem of attracting voters who don't know a councilman from a crossing guard. So I called Nathan Hochman, the ethics commission president, to hear his justification for a lottery.
"We are in a crisis," said Hochman, citing a steep decline in turnout for local elections between 2001 and 2013, when about 75% of the city's registered voters skipped the election won by Mayor Eric Garcetti.
"In a representative democracy, you want everybody to have a piece of ownership about their city government," Hochman said. And when too few people take part, "the system fails."
A commission formed by Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson had already looked at fixes, including the aligning of low-turnout local elections with higher-turnout state and national elections in even-numbered years. Another recommendation was for extended voting times, in which voters might have more places to cast ballots and several days to do so.
Those are fine ideas, Hochman said, but it'll take years to implement them. The commission wanted to try something in the interim, on a trial basis.
He said commissioners considered the 90% turnouts in Australia, where residents are fined $20 if they don't vote. But commissioners preferred carrots over sticks, and the idea of a prize drawing came up.
cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz>
Nobody would be paid to vote. But by voting, regardless of how you vote, you might get lucky.
Hochman said roughly $65 million was spent on L.A. city elections in 2013 when you count independent expenditures and $10 million in matching funds from the city. So if you took just 1% of the $10 million in matching funds, Hochman said, or $100,000, you could probably boost engagement and turnout by randomly awarding four $25,000 prizes, or 10 $10,000 prizes, or any such combination.
Hochman began to turn me around, just a little, with that argument. If it's acceptable to spend the obscene amount of $65 million — much of it to extort and misinform with negative attacks — why is it unacceptable to spend a tiny fraction of that amount to get more people involved?
As we all know, there are lots of reasons people don't vote. They're lazy, or turned off by candidates or campaigns, or they don't believe their vote can make a difference in a city that can't trim a tree but every half-century. Or, understandably, they don't know the difference between the state controller and treasurer, or they can't figure out how anyone can be expected to know one judicial candidate from another.
But regardless, is powerball politics the best way to shake up the system?
I called local government watchdog Bob Stern, who favors several reforms, and was surprised by his take on the lottery idea. It's got pros and cons, he said, "but I like the idea of it as an experiment. Let's try it. Clearly it would increase turnout."
I had expected him to argue that cash prizes would invite too many know-nothings into the process, but he saw it differently.
"I agree with Hochman that people would pay more attention to it," Stern said, "and be more educated than they are now. And that's a good thing."
Wesson told me Tuesday that he's noncommittal but fascinated, pending legal review of a lottery. He said he wants to hear what neighborhood councils think, and also what non-voters have to say about why they don't vote, and whether a lottery would make a difference.
Fernando Guerra, who directs the Loyola Marymount Center for the Study of Los Angeles and headed the election reform commission formed by Garcetti and Wesson, said there are two main reasons turnout in local elections has dropped nationally.
First, the initial fights for African American and Latino representation among elected officials have already been waged. Second, the domination of Democrats and demise of Republicans has further decreased tension and drama.
"There's no magic wand" to address the problem, Guerra said, but he believes a lottery comes closer than anything. And he already has a name for it.
That's not bad. And Guerra said that rather than use city money for prizes, which would raise political and legal issues, he'd like to see nonprofits put up the cash as an experimental investment in greater civic participation.
It's a myth, Guerra said, that everyone who already votes is well-informed. Greater participation, he argued, will lead to more awareness of local issues and possibly undermine special-interest forces that now determine outcomes.
"The lower the turnout," he argued, "the easier it is to manipulate and control the messages to individual voters."
That certainly remains to be seen. But we have just witnessed a pitifully low turnout of 8% in a school board election, and Guerra predicts a paltry 15% turnout in city elections next April. That could double or triple, he suggested, if the lottery were in place and prizes evenly divided across city districts.
I still have misgivings. But I have to admit it'd be interesting to find out if he's right.
Editorial: Vote, and win $25,000: It's a losing idea
A voter marks his ballot at a South L.A. polling location on election day last November. (Christina House / For The Times)
21 April 2015 :: Frustrated by the appallingly low turnout in local elections, the nonprofit Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is planning a cash lottery — or voteria — to get voters to the polls for the Los Angeles Board of Education District 5 race. Anyone who legitimately casts a ballot in the May 19 contest between incumbent Bennett Kayser and challenger Ref Rodriguez will be automatically entered into the drawing. After the election is certified, the group will randomly select one person from the voting pool.
The winner gets $25,000. The losers are the people who still believe in the integrity of the democratic process.
This gimmick perverts the motivation to vote. It demeans the value of voting. And it's the most superficial pseudo-solution to a very real problem in Los Angeles, which is the pervasive civic malaise that prevents so many eligible voters from feeling truly engaged. In fact, the voteria only underscores the cynical view that people don't care about their local government anymore and the only way to get them to vote is to bribe them.
When the Los Angeles Ethics Commission floated a similar lottery proposal last year, The Times called it one of the worst ideas put forward in a long time. But even that was better than the voteria. Why? Because at least a city-sponsored contest would be clearly non-ideological and not aimed at influencing one particular election. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project is a well-meaning organization with a long history of working to increase voter participation in the Latino community — but what if this cash prize ends up being advertised more heavily in the Latino community in District 5? What if it brings out more Latinos than, say, African Americans? Is it fair that one demographic has more of a financial incentive to vote? What if in the next school board election an African American group decides it should pay voters even more to turn out? Or a Republican group? Or the teachers union or a charter school group? This is a troubling precedent that could easily devolve into an arms race among interest groups trying to get out their votes to influence an election.
Yes, low turnout is bad. It allows the few to make decisions for the many, and that undermines the integrity of our representative democracy. Angelenos were so concerned about low turnout that they voted in March to move local elections to June and November of even-numbered years to coincide with gubernatorial and presidential elections. That is a meaningful reform that should boost turnout simply by capturing local voters who show up for higher-profile elections. Groups like the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project are right to look for innovative ways to engage voters. But dangling money in front of polling places is not the way to do it.
●● Someone else’s 2¢ – A 4LAKids reader with a JD degree (it takes all kinds!) writes : Don't quote me here, I'm just musing:
So they snaked past the Ca Election Code because they aren't explicitly urging the voting for one candidate over another (although they are quoted as saying they want to encourage Latino voter participation and Dan Chang muses over the effect of a Spanish surname):18521. A person shall not directly or through any other person
receive, agree, or contract for, before, during or after an election,
any money, gift, loan, or other valuable consideration, office,
place, or employment for himself or any other person because he or
any other person:
(a) Voted, agreed to vote, refrained from voting, or agreed to
refrain from voting for any particular person or measure.
(b) Remained away from the polls.
(c) Refrained or agreed to refrain from voting.
(d) Induced any other person to:
(1) Remain away from the polls.
(2) Refrain from voting.
(3) Vote or refrain from voting for any particular person or
Any person violating this section is punishable by imprisonment
pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16
months or two or three years.
And a lottery isn't illegal if you don't have to pay to participate, see CA Penal Code section
319. A lottery is any scheme for the disposal or distribution of
property by chance, among persons who have paid or promised to pay
any valuable consideration for the chance of obtaining such property
or a portion of it, or for any share or any interest in such
property, upon any agreement, understanding, or expectation that it
is to be distributed or disposed of by lot or chance, whether called
a lottery, raffle, or gift enterprise, or by whatever name the same
may be known.
But what about the good, old-fashioned law against slot machines in California? Isn't this scheme converting every voter machine in District 5 into a "mechanical device, upon the result of action of which money or other valuable thing is staked or hazarded..." and therefore subjecting every person who permits the placement of such a voter machine in place under her control to potential prosecutions for a violation of Penal Code section 330a?
330a. (a) Every person, who has in his or her possession or under
his or her control, either as owner, lessee, agent, employee,
mortgagee, or otherwise, or who permits to be placed, maintained, or
kept in any room, space, inclosure, or building owned, leased, or
occupied by him or her, or under his or her management or control,
any slot or card machine, contrivance, appliance or mechanical
device, upon the result of action of which money or other valuable
thing is staked or hazarded, and which is operated, or played, by
placing or depositing therein any coins, checks, slugs, balls, or
other articles or device, or in any other manner and by means
whereof, or as a result of the operation of which any merchandise,
money, representative or articles of value, checks, or tokens,
redeemable in or exchangeable for money or any other thing of value,
is won or lost, or taken from or obtained from the machine, when the
result of action or operation of the machine, contrivance, appliance,
or mechanical device is dependent upon hazard or chance, and every
person, who has in his or her possession or under his or her control,
either as owner, lessee, agent, employee, mortgagee, or otherwise,
or who permits to be placed, maintained, or kept in any room, space,
inclosure, or building owned, leased, or occupied by him or her, or
under his or her management or control, any card dice, or any dice
having more than six faces or bases each, upon the result of action
of which any money or other valuable thing is staked or hazarded, or
as a result of the operation of which any merchandise, money,
representative or article of value, check or token, redeemable in or
exchangeable for money or any other thing of value, is won or lost or
taken, when the result of action or operation of the dice is
dependent upon hazard or chance, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
(b) A first violation of this section shall be punishable by a
fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) nor more than one
thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not
exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(c) A second offense shall be punishable by a fine of not less
than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars
($10,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six
months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
(d) A third or subsequent offense shall be punishable by a fine of
not less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) nor more than
twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by imprisonment in a
county jail not exceeding one year, or by both that fine and
(e) If the offense involved more than one machine or more than one
location, an additional fine of not less than one thousand dollars
($1,000) nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) shall be
imposed per machine and per location.
A stretch, maybe, but enough for someone/some organization to seek an injunction?