The Los Angeles Ethics Commission (the term “ethics” is used rather loosely in this case) has a plan to get more voters to turn out on Election Day. Basically, they think the city should bribe people to show up at the polls. According to LA Times:
Alarmed that fewer than one-fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure a greater number of people to the polls. On a 3-0 vote, the panel said it wanted City Council President Herb Wesson's Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to seriously consider the use of financial incentives and a random drawing during its elections, possibly as soon as next year.
Rewarding voters with cash prizes and handouts? Heck, I thought Democrats had already patented that process.
The plan seems to be tailor-made for corruption as city officials “reward” voters with money, handouts, and what I can only assume will be some novelty door prizes. What could possibly go wrong with a government-run program that “rewards” voters with free stuff? Especially with the top-notch ethics of Los Angeles city officials, right?
But, strangely, the potential corruption isn’t really the biggest issue here. For some inexplicable reason, pundits on the Right and Left seem obsessed with bemoaning America’s disinterest in the democratic process. Heck, how many times has someone tried to explain that “voting is the most important” thing you can do for your country? Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not.
Bumping up voter turnout makes sense from a party perspective. Obviously political parties will do whatever they can (mostly legally) to get more of their supporters to the ballot box. But let’s face it: having people show up to vote, purely for the sake of voting, is absurd on almost every level. One third of Americans can’t even name all three branches of government… Most Americans can’t name the party that leads the House, and I’m willing to bet most LA residents weren’t even aware the city had a panel of Ethics. (Actually, this could shock anyone.)
And yet, we want to encourage these people to help elect the folks who will populate these branches of government? (I know, we don’t elect judges… We just elect the elitists hacks who appoint the self-appointed arbiters of our rights.) After all, we’re talking about voting. We’re not talking about American-Idol, YouTube views, or Facebook ‘Likes’. If you can’t name the Vice President, you probably shouldn’t be engaging in this process. And you certainly shouldn’t be getting “rewarded” for it with financial incentives. I know that I certainly don’t want to be governed by a bunch of voters who showed up to get their hands on some free stuff. (If I wanted that, I’d move to Chicago.)
Government seems almost obsessed with telling us that the most important piece of preserving our republic is that we vote. “Just Vote” says one campaign. Many state hand out cute little stickers to proudly proclaim the fact that citizens did their “civic duty.”
And, government has it wrong. Voting is not the most important aspect of our civic engagement. Knowledge of the issues, some basic understanding of government functions, and maybe a vague idea of current events are all a little more important than randomly punching some hanging chads. Informed voting is more paramount to preserving freedom than simply casting a ballot. This, after all, is why we don’t let toddlers vote. (Well, usually. I guess I don’t know how else Nancy Pelosi would have gotten into office.)
If voter turnout is so important, maybe we should take a hint from North Korea, Cuba, and Iran. Oh sure: citizens in those nations are “incentivized” to vote by a guy with a gun – rather than a cash prize – but at least there’s high turnout, right?