Just 23.3 percent of Los Angeles voters cast ballots in last year’s mayoral election, the lowest figures in 100 years. Turnout was “embarrassingly down,” Herb Wesson, the city’s council president said, and he’s looking at how to change that. “Someone brought up what would it be like if we had some sort of incentive program,” Wesson said. “It’s just an idea.” The Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted Thursday for Wesson to look into various ways to increase turnout, including cash incentives like a lottery. The idea is just in the “incubation process,” Wesson said, with nothing approaching even an actual proposal, but there’s data to suggest paying people to vote increases turnout. A study conducted in 2010 in Lancaster, Calif., in northern Los Angeles County, by Fordham University professor Costas Panagopoulos found nominal incentives like a few bucks don’t do much to increase turnout, but a few more dollars is enough of an incentive to convince a larger percentage of people to vote.
According to the study, published in 2013 in the Journal of Politics, 14.9 percent of a control group voted in Lancaster’s 2010 municipal election. That number only increased to 15 percent for those who received $2 by mail, but went up to 17.6 percent for $10 and 19.2 percent for $25. Panagopoulos noted there are “likely limitations” to how effective incentives like this could be, and at some point, offering more money wouldn’t bring in more voters.
A 2006 Arizona proposal that would have given voters a slim chance — one-in-about-two-million — in winning $1 million for voting wouldn’t have been that effective, he predicted. That proposal was rejected by voters.