But if it won't, here's one possible incentive: Your voting receipt could become a Mega Millions lottery ticket.
One of the major problems contributing to the extraordinary dysfunction of the American political system is the series of voting processes that gives immense influence to the extreme, ideologically driven bases of the two major parties. In today's base-driven elections, party strategists try to maximize the turnout of their own base -- usually by frightening them to death about the consequences if the "enemy" prevails -- while minimizing the turnout of the other side by any means necessary and available.
In my view, the best way to ameliorate this malign dynamic is to find ways to enlarge the electorate in primaries and general elections -- to move our politics to where persuadable voters in the middle have more impact. If I could do one thing to counter our dysfunction, it would be to adopt a version of the Australian system of mandatory attendance at the polls.
For more than 70 years in
Why would increasing turnout make a difference? It is not that high turnout is a
surefire indicator of civic health and democratic values -- the former
course, mandatory voting has no serious chance of being enacted in the
My favorite incentive approach is a "Mega Millions lottery," where one's voting receipt is also one's lottery ticket. The lure of a major prize could and would motivate people to vote, the same way the multimillion dollar Mega Millions prize in 2012 motivated many to stand in line for hours for a chance to buy a lottery ticket that gave a one-in-176-million chance to become a multimillionaire. A lottery could increase turnout dramatically and overnight, and is a model that could be employed at all levels (say, a chance to win a car donated by a local dealer for a local election).
Our best hope for changing the damaging culture which elects people who embrace rigid and extreme ideas is for more Americans to exert some influence in elections.
Beyond incentives like these, other things could make voting easier. One is moving Election Day from Tuesday (an anachronism, initiated by law in the 1840s to make it easier for Americans to travel to the polling place without creating problems for Market Day or observing the Sabbath) to the weekend. In my ideal world, voting would take place over a 24-hour period from noon Saturday to noon Sunday, thus avoiding any Sabbath problems or overcrowding at peak periods before and after the workday. There would also be early voting on the three days before the weekend to accommodate those who will be away. I would also like to modernize our voter registration system and ballot design so that Americans could vote not just in their home precincts but also near their workplaces or in voting centers.
Of course, expanding the ability and ease for more Americans to vote may first require a vigorous effort to roll back recent, extensive voter suppression efforts, from onerous, partisan-driven voter ID laws (as in Pennsylvania, Texas, and New Hampshire) to attempts to purge the voter rolls that go well beyond narrowly targeted efforts to eliminate non-citizens (see Florida as the prime example).
One other area is worth encouraging: the kind of open primaries that have been
implemented in several states, including
Most of the open primary systems simply choose the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, to compete on the ballot in November (if no one gets more than 50 percent in the primary). If instead the open primary chose three or more candidates via preference voting, or simply included preference voting, the system would be far better. It also might avoid election anomalies such as the recent California congressional race, in which one district's split of votes among multiple candidates resulted in a slate of just two conservative Republicans--despite the fact that the district is distinctly moderate and Democratic in nature.
I am not a naïf. I recognize full well that most of these ideas are unlikely to be adopted soon, and I also know that none would be a panacea. Indeed, there is a case to be made that the sharp polarization and tribalism that has come to dominate Washington has metastasized to the American public, and that the center of the electorate--nearly invisible in Congress--will soon be hard to find in the rest of the country. But our best hope for changing the damaging culture which enhances the tribal wars and elects people who disdain compromise and embrace rigid and extreme ideas is to create more opportunities for more Americans to exert some influence in all elections.
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