Casting a ballot could one day mean big money in Arizona |

Casting a ballot could one day mean big money in Arizona

Paul Davenport

PHOENIX (AP) – “Vote your pocketbook” could take on a whole new meaning in Arizona.

The state is considering a proposal to boost turnout during elections by awarding a $1 million prize to one randomly selected voter, just for casting a ballot.

“It gives them something to shoot for,” said Rosie Coyote, 55, a process server from Phoenix. “It gives them motive. I think it’s a good idea.”

But others warn that the raffle would trivialize the electoral process, distort the outcome and violate state or federal law.

Arizonans will vote on the reward idea Nov. 7. The proposal made it onto the ballot in June after supporters turned in nearly 184,000 signatures, or about 50 percent more than required.

If the measure passes, election officials would assign a number to each voter who casts a ballot in a state election. The state commission that oversees the Arizona lottery would then hold a public drawing to pick a winner, with the prize money coming from unclaimed lottery prizes.

Supporters see the reward as a way to boost participation in elections. Arizona’s turnout of registered voters in the 2004 general election was already high at 77 percent, compared with nearly 61 percent nationally.

“One of the goals that I’ve had in my lifetime is to see that all Americans have health care like every other major country on earth. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that everybody votes,” said Mark Osterloh, a Tucson ophthalmologist and political activist who headed and bankrolled the reward campaign. He also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2002.

Casey Mammen said the financial incentive trivializes the electoral process.

“Voting is a privilege of an American. That’s the way it should be viewed, not as a bribe to get me to come do what I have the privilege to do,” said Mammen, 33, a pastor in El Mirage.

David Garcia, 36, said the idea makes him uncomfortable: “The government encouraging democracy through a monetary reward I think starts to go down some slippery slopes. Just for some reason, mixing the two together doesn’t sit well with me.”

The Arizona Chamber on Commerce and Industry, the state’s biggest business lobby, calls the idea misguided and dangerous, saying a reward would encourage people to cast a ballot “even if they are completely uninformed and uninterested.”

“It’s too cute by more than a half, and I think Arizona voters will reject this kind of gimmickry,” Chamber spokesman Farrell Quinlan said.

Osterloh rejected the criticism. Like people who do not bone up on the latest car models unless they are about to buy one, nonvoters would take the time to learn about candidates and issues if they decided to vote, he said.

The idea’s legality is also in question. Federal law makes it a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment for up to two years to make, offer or receive “an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote.” An Arizona law makes it a misdemeanor to “treat, give, pay, loan, contribute, offer or promise money or other valuable consideration” to induce a voter to go to the polls.

Several attorneys said the state law would probably not be a problem because the voter reward law effectively would provide an exemption for the drawing.

And an attorney consulted by Osterloh, Anthony Ching, said the federal prohibitions wouldn’t be triggered because the chance of winning the $1 million is just a possibility; there is no expectation of something of value.

A voter would get one entry in the drawing for voting in either the primary or general election, or two entries for voting in both. Considering a combined 2.6 million ballots were cast in Arizona in 2004, the chances of winning would probably be better than the 1-in-4.5 million odds for the $1 million jackpot in the Arizona lottery.

“Here, nobody’s giving anything,” said Ching, a former top official in the Arizona attorney general’s office. “The mere expectation that you may win … doesn’t have any value.”

Other attorneys disagreed.

“I think it’s illegal,” said Gabriel “Jack” Chin, a University of Arizona law professor. “The chance (to win) is valuable. Somebody wins.”

– Associated Press Writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.

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