Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Voting Is Like Winning The Lottery

Or maybe it should be

Democrats and Republicans can probably agree on this: voter participation and turnout in the U.S. is never as high as we wish. A very significant percentage of voting-age Americans just don't vote.

Another voting-related problem for the U.S. is that not everyone is well-educated about the issues that make up the substance of the debate between major candidates. In some cases they may not even have a clear understanding of how government works.

If more of us were informed on the issues, the politicians and the media might not get away with sound-bites and attack ads quite as easily. Politicians would have to raise their game and speak to the issues. The media might recognize that we want substance, and would hold politicians to a higher standard during interviews and debates, calling for clear answers to the questions asked.

We the people deserve at least that much.

Perhaps we should provide some modest incentives toward getting us there. What if each state had a $250,000 lottery on election day? Each citizen who votes can choose to take a short (4 or 5 question) multiple choice quiz on the basics of civics as taught in 6th or 7th grade. Basic stuff. How many branches are there of the federal government? Which of the following are the roles of congress? What is a filibuster? How long is the term of a Supreme Court Justice? How long is the term of a Senator?

Nobody would be forced to take the quiz. But if you do, your quiz gets a number and is entered into a lottery. You walk away with a matching number. Quizzes get sorted by machine reader into those that score 100% (entered in the lottery) and those that don't (not entered). One winner is selected at random, and the number is published. The holder of that number wins $250,000.

That's not a huge amount of money for a state, even in tough financial times. But it's a very nice win for a citizen. And I bet it drives both voting numbers and public civic awareness up by a lot.

Voting really already is like winning the lottery in that your participation in the political process is the baseline for participatory government. By participating, you have a voice in how your country is run. But maybe an additional incentive to both get more of the vote out and to encourage more of the population to understand the basics of our government, could be helpful. Voters can win the lottery in more ways than one.

Do you like this idea? Leave a comment and let us know.


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