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.