Besides handing out monetary incentives, voter engagement groups have tried almost every tactic to increase turnout on Election Day. In Philadelphia, that will change on November 3. The Philadelphia Citizen is offering $10,000 to one random voter who casts a ballot in the upcoming mayoral race.
The 2015 Philadelphia Municipal Election Voting Lottery, courtesy of the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, is one creative solution for solving the current civic responsibility malaise. Compared to other nations, the U.S. has historically low voter turnout. In Philadelphia alone, turnout sank to 27 percent in last May’s primary election — which some considered a decent number.
A similar practice was enacted in the Los Angeles Board of Education’s District 5 race last May. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project‘s idea of a Votería increased voter turnout from 46 percent to 80 percent. The price tag for that type of turnout was $25,000.
An L.A. Times editorial condemned this idea of an Election Day lottery, arguing it perverts the motivation to vote:
“It demeans that value of voting. And it’s the most superficial pseudo-solution to a very real problem…which is the pervasive civic malaise that prevents so many eligible voters from feeling truly engaged.” – L.A. Times Editorial
Right or wrong, the Philadelphia Citizen realizes that something must be done.
“We are in a crisis of civic participation,” Larry Platt, co-founder of the Philadelphia Citizen said. “We’re in favor of anything that gets the conversation started, to try and jump-start democracy in the place it was born.”
The saying “it pays to vote” will literally ring true in Philadelphia. However, no matter what side one chooses in this debate, the fact that we are at this point in our democracy, where we literally have to pay people to participate, is quite telling of a larger systemic issue that cannot be fixed with a quick check.