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Blue Meltdown
What Democracy Doesn’t Look Like

Earlier this year, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonprofit organization, announced a raffle for voting in the L.A. County School Board elections. Those who voted were automatically registered in the contest by the nonprofit, which ran the raffle and provided the cash, and the winner was to receive $25,000. Now the “Voteria” prize is back in the news as the group awarded it last week to a security guard.

Though this event was not sponsored by any level of Los Angeles’s city government, including the School Board itself, it nonetheless marks a sad state of affairs for participatory democracy in America. The contest was initiated largely to spur voter turnout, which in Los Angeles sometimes drops to below 10 percent. It seems it may have been marginally effective—the prize is credited by some as possibly bringing out more Latino voters. It may thereby have handed the race to Ref Rodriguez, a Latino candidate in favor of independent charter schools. Still, on the whole the cash prize hardly lured out any more voters than usual, with the election seeing a turnout of only around 10 percent.

But the success or failure of the raffle is besides the point. If this is the only way LA can get voter turnout, that’s a serious indictment of the city’s political culture. The raffle is something that a healthy democracy shouldn’t need and the kind of thing no healthy democracy would do.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Slow day at TAI? You point out that the raffle failed to increase the turnout, so it was ineffective. Furthermore, there’s a long history of encouraging voters to vote by various means in this country. It’s unclear to me what you mean by “the city’s political culture”. I do agree, however, that having decisions made by 10% of the electorate is not democracy. What’s to be done?

  • Larry Seltzer

    Can this possibly be legal? Doesn’t it amount to bribing people to vote?

  • LA_Bob

    “If this is the only way LA can get voter turnout, that’s a serious indictment of the city’s political culture.”

    Not sure I agree with this. I think political participation is proportional to people’s perceptions that it makes a difference in their lives. If you don’t believe the makeup of the Board of Education or the City Council matters, why trouble yourself to learn enough about the candidates to support one over others?

    I think most people believe their futures — job prospects, financial well-being, and so on — are managed far more in Washington, DC than in Los Angeles. This is probably both true and false. Federal laws and regulations (and State ones as well) place considerable limitations on what municipalities can do. If a mayoral candidate promises to “bring jobs to” their city, how does that help people who commute beyond city boundaries to find work, never mind that the city is not insulated from national and regional economic realities? If a Board of Education candidate promises to “fix public education in LA”, how does it help that many of mandates are made in Sacramento or Washington?

    On the other hand, there are local policies that probably do matter. But how likely is it that large numbers of voters will understand what they can control and what they cannot?

  • CapitalHawk

    How did this private group get hold of the list of people that voted in the election? What if only one person had voted? Would the list of people that voted still be available to outsiders? How is this consistent with the concept of a secret ballot?

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