If elections were big-money lotteries, turnouts would be huge

Norman Ornstein, one of the heavy thinkers at the American Enterprise Institute, likes the Australian system of mandatory voting (there’s a $15 fine for not voting) but recognizes that such a mandate wouldn’t fly here in America.

One of the advantages of the Australian system, Ornstein explains, is that it promotes political moderation. Universal participation puts a premium on voters in the middle of the spectrum who might otherwise not have turned out.

Ornstein thinks much the same dynamic could be achieved in America — without the mandate and the fines — if our political system were to emulate the Mega Millions Lottery, which recently attracted 100 million participants when the jackpot reached unprecedented  heights.

HERE‘s his argument:

I would love to implement the Australian model in America, but I recognize that mandatory voting — actually, mandatory anything — is a hard sell in this country. So here is another idea: a series of Mega Millions-like lotteries for primary and general elections, with awards that can range up to the hundreds of millions for a big general election — where your lottery ticket is your voting stub. It is a reasonable guess, given what we have seen with big lotteries in the states, that a billion dollars for all federal primary and general elections in a cycle (a small sum to enhance democracy and reduce dysfunction) would, by providing a very powerful incentive to get Americans registered and to actually turn up at the polls, result in a robust increase in turnout, perhaps to as much as 75 or 80 percent. The idea could be applied in states and localities with smaller prizes and not simply using public money; perhaps auto dealers could donate cars, for example.

Another way to implement the plan would be to use a state’s voter registration rolls and pick five names at random as winners — with the names announced after the election, but the prizes given only to those who actually voted. All it would take to send a powerful message to other non-voters is one example in an election where an individual was picked but lost a Corvette or $100,000 because he or she did not vote.


1 Comment

  1. Milton Waddams

    I wouldn’t be opposed to this, but would much rather see instant runoff elections like they have in Australia.

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