Why a Voter Lottery Could Save US Democracy

There’s been much gnashing of teeth about the proposal to give every voter in Arizona a lottery ticket in a $1 million lottery. (See Arizona Ballot Could Become Lottery Ticket for details of the proposal.)

Some opponents of the idea have expressed their shock and horror at the idea the purity of the voting booth would be sullied with money. After all, paying people to vote is currently a crime.

Others are appalled that low-quality voters will be drawn into voting by the draw of lucre when they don’t care enough to vote otherwise, and — say the critics — are thus going to be uniformed or random voters motivated only by the chance of a free chance at the post-election drawing. For example,

Editorial writers, bloggers and others have panned the idea as bribery and say it may draw people simply trying to cash in without studying candidates or issues.

“Bribing people to vote is a superficial approach that will have no beneficial outcome to the process, except to make some people feel good that the turnout numbers are higher,” said an editorial in The Yuma Sun. “But higher numbers do not necessarily mean a better outcome.”

I disagree with that idea on principle — I think more voters is a better outcome even if they’re not what critics think are the right sort of people. Indeed, I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the Australian system of compulsory voting. But that’s a lengthy debate for another day.

Today I want to make a simpler suggestion: that there would be significant side-benefits if tomorrow’s voting machines were also lottery machines. One of the very strange things about today’s voting machine technology is that while the some of same people who make voting machines also make slot machines, we subject slot machines to much stiffer auditing than voting machines.

It’s hard to believe that our society could so casually determine that casino money merits greater protection against fraud than elections — especially after we have seen so clearly the great cost of a stolen election. Indeed, this apparent social insanity regarding relative risks gives rise to the conspiracy theory version of electoral history: the machines are insecure because it serves someone’s interests that they be easy to hack.

But take it instead as a public choice failure: casinos have a direct private interest in protecting their pocketbooks; the people who buy voting machines have limited budgets and many competing pressures; lousy machines may sometimes help their bottom line if they come with campaign contributions, cost few tax dollars, or whatever.

So suppose instead of the current scenario, our voting machines were transformed into something closer to the slots — lottery ticket machines. And suppose we designed them in a way that there might be more than one winner. All of a sudden, there’s a need for serious auditing capabilities….

Just a thought.

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4 Responses to Why a Voter Lottery Could Save US Democracy

  1. anon says:

    I don’t think that making voting machines into “lottery machines” would have much of an effect on voting accuracy. For one, a lot of the voters would not care who they voted for. They would be showing up just for the lottery ticket. They might vote randomly and not even remember who the voted for. Secondly, the technology that selects one random name from a list of people who voted with the machine would likely be different from that which totals the votes for each race. Picking one random name doesn’t seem as compicated and I don’t believe there would be much controversy over the selection process. The machine could correctly pick a random name but still make mistakes when totalling the votes.

  2. pfc says:

    I think its typical of our era that we discuss plans like this one to increase voter participation when we ignore completely the easy, simple, way to increace it: voting on weekends. If we voted on Sat./Sun., more people would vote.

  3. anon says:

    I don’t think more people would vote on Saturday or Sunday. You might pick up people who can’t vote because of work, but you would still lose a lot of people to football games and other weekend activities (such as church, etc.). A better idea would be to have voting on a Wednesday and to declare Election Day as a national holiday. Having the holiday in the middle of the week would also prevent a lot of people from going out of town on the holiday. If the economy is a concern, simply get rid of a meaningless holiday such as Columbus Day.

  4. Mojo says:

    I would take the opposite approach. I’d make it easy to vote; lot’s of polling places, free transportation, a national voting system so everybody would vote the same and “absentee” ballots could be cast reliably wherever you happen to be, early voting for people who’ll be out of the country or away from all polling places on election day, mobile voting machines for shut-ins, etc. But, for each vote cast, you’d receive a painful electric shock. That way, only people who actually cared about an issue or candidate would be willing to vote. No party line voting with one button. You’d need to hit the button and take the shock each and every time you decided that the guy with the (R) after his name must be a better Railroad Commissioner than the guy with the (D) after his name (or vice versa), even if you’ve never heard of either of them and don’t have a clue what a “Railroad Commissioner” is. As a bonus, I expect it wouldn’t take long (accompanied by the smell of ozone) for people to decide that elected judges is a bad idea. Please join my “Get out of the Vote!” campaign.

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