Proposition 200 would bribe people uninterested in voting to vote anyway by giving them a chance in a $1 million lottery. The actual value of the ticket would be about 50 cents, hardly enough to attract many new voters. But for gamblers who dream of taking home the big jackpot, this may do the trick.
Dr. Mark Osterloh, the author of Prop. 200, thinks Arizonans need a financial inducement to vote. What could be a greater insult to our American values and liberties?
Our right to self-government - the vote - has been paid for over the years with the sacrifice of heroes. Americans today can be justifiably proud of our universal suffrage, where every citizen in good standing has a right to vote without undue impediments. Moreover, those votes are respected. Our governments transition peacefully, even after the most acrimonious electoral campaigns.
Still, in every election some citizens don't exercise their right to vote. In recent presidential elections, approximately 30 percent of registered voters fail to vote. Up to 90 percent abstain in municipal or "special" elections. People who fail to vote are either not involved in the outcome of the election or don't believe they have any influence. They generally are not very interested nor informed about public policy. Although it may seem irresponsible, failing to vote may be logical behavior for those who have not prepared themselves for meaningful participation in the process.
But to Osterloh and others on the left, failure to vote is yet another matter that requires significant government intervention. Practically speaking, not much more can be done to make voting more convenient or to encourage people to vote. So citizens who are misbehaving, in their view, must be cajoled into voting.
Is this really a good thing? Pundits often criticize campaigns now for being crude and sensational rather than sticking to policy discussions. But politicians know that voters respond to the personal and emotional. Will this improve with voters even less educated and more impressionable? Not likely.
Osterloh claims to believe all these new lottery-motivated voters would suddenly begin to take a "personal interest" in the elections. It's not clear why this would happen, since they have a separate financial reason for voting. More likely, their votes would simply cancel out those of others who do care about elections and who have thoughtfully considered their votes.
Of course, it's possible that Osterloh prefers voters who are not intellectually engaged. He may think such voters are more likely to vote for handouts and the big government programs favored by the political left. He may be right that less educated voters tend to have a socialistic view of government. And he does a history of using the initiative process for attempted political gain.
Unfortunately for him, his plans have not worked as expected. He was the prime author of the deceptively titled Citizens Clean Elections Act in 1998, intended to diminish Republicans' fundraising advantage. Taxpayer "contributions" did provide a comfortable financial margin for Janet Napolitano in 2002 over traditionally funded Matt Salmon. But observers also point out that social conservatives maintain an advantage in the Legislature because of the availability of taxpayer funding. These candidates are typically popular with primary voters but, until now, have been handicapped by the inability to attract financial support.
Osterloh also engineered the initiative creating the Independent Redistricting Commission, another "reform" that was actually an attempt to create a process that would result in redistricting maps more favorable to Democrats. But the Commission found that federal law and demographics drive the redistricting process and this effort also ended in disappointment for its creators.
Would a voters' lottery really affect the outcome of elections? Osterloh admits he hopes that it would "dramatically alter" the 2008 congressional elections. It's hard to know if he's right.
Americans today are secure in their hard-won right to vote, regardless of race, creed or even literacy. We shouldn't be demeaned by the addition of a nearly worthless financial incentive to entice those who choose not to exercise that privilege.
East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired emergency room physician and former state senator.