By Phoenix Tso
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A Los Angeles man received a check for $25,000 on Friday just for voting.
Ivan Rojas, a 35-year-old security guard, was randomly chosen for the prize through a lottery set up by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a group that works to encourage voter turnout among the Latino community during local elections.
“I was shocked. I still can’t believe it,” Rojas told the Los Angeles Times about receiving the money for simply voting in a May Board of Education election.
The contest was designed by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project to try and reverse chronically low voter turnout in local elections, said president Antonio Gonzalez.
In Los Angeles County, just 31 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the November, 2014 statewide election. Turnout among Latinos was only 23 percent, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In last year's national midterm elections, turnout reached a 72-year low, with just 36.4 percent of American voters going to the polls.
Gonzalez said new ways are needed to encourage participation in the political process.
He touted the success of the lottery, dubbed Voteria, by pointing to a survey of voters conducted at Loyola Marymount University.
“The initial study says that 25 percent of the people who initially voted because of Voteria,” Gonzalez said.
Last year, the Los Angeles City Council considered a citywide lottery system for local elections in an effort to reverse a downward trend in voter participation.
California and Alaska are the only states with laws that make it possible to have a voter turnout lottery, but neither state has put it in practice. Federal law prohibits the rewarding of voters for casting a ballot in elections for federal office.
Some critics have come out against the lottery or similar initiatives.
“In fact, the voteria only underscores the cynical view that people don't care about their local government anymore and the only way to get them to vote is to bribe them,” wrote The Los Angeles Times editorial board in April.
The editorial also raised the question of whether Voteria was incentivizing certain people to vote for certain candidates.
To that, Gonzalez says that the current voting system already unfairly favors the desires of certain interest groups.
“We’re here to make sure that disadvantaged people vote, and we make no apologies," he said.
(Editing by Victoria Cavaliere, Robert Birsel)