Ivan Rojas didn’t recognize the phone number when his cell woke him up one recent morning. So he went back to sleep. Later, when he listened to the message, he decided it must be a crank call or a scam. “Nowadays, you can’t trust anybody,” he said. What else would explain someone telling him that he’d won the grand prize, $25,000, for a contest he did not knowingly enter? And all because he voted. An experiment in boosting chronic low-turnout local elections ended Friday when Rojas, a 35-year-old security guard, received a check for winning a lottery that included every voter in District 5 for the Los Angeles Board of Education. “I was shocked,” Rojas said. “I still can’t believe it.” The contest comes as officials are trying to get voters to the polls. In Los Angeles County only 31% of registered voters cast ballots in the November 2014 statewide election. Turnout was particularly low among Latinos, at only 23%. Figures for local elections are more anemic. Last year, L.A. City officials talked about giving out prizes in hopes of increasing turnout.
The May runoff election in Los Angeles pitted incumbent Bennett Kayser against Ref Rodriguez, who won in a district that includes the area north and east of downtown as well as the cities of southeast L.A. County.
The lottery was the brainchild of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and its president, Antonio Gonzalez. A main focus of the nonprofit is increasing voter turnout, especially within the Latino community. The group also has recruited Latinos to run for office, although it cannot endorse candidates