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Accelerated Evolution

A Gamble at a Better Democracy

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I don't know about you, but when that Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot gets really high, I like to go down to the local convenience store and ask the good folks waiting for hours to buy a fistful of tickets, "Hey, do you think Condi Rice should cut a deal with Bashar Assad?" Or, "Excuse me, sir, I know you're busy filling out those little ovals for the same 78 numbers you play every week, but I was wondering whether you think reimportation of Canadian drugs is a good idea?" I mean, where better to find the distilled genius of the vox populi than a line of people at the 7-Eleven who have a lot of time to spare during working hours?

Nowhere, according to Dr. Mark Osterloh of Tucson, Ariz. Which is why he wants to get the lotto crowd to vote by turning elections into giant lotteries. His idea, which has received undue national attention, is simple: If you vote, you're automatically entered in a drawing for $1 million - and perhaps some fabulous consolation prizes, too! His proposal will be on the November ballot in Arizona, and he hopes it will revolutionize the country by enlisting the lottery-line crowd to fix our democracy. He even has a slogan: "Who wants to be a millionaire? Vote!"

Osterloh, an ophthalmologist and political activist (he ran for governor by bicycling throughout the state a few years ago), is one of those classic American cranks who has the audacity to take our civic cliches seriously. Since the civil rights era, Americans have been indoctrinated with the message that voting is the essential yardstick of citizenship. Editorialists, civics teachers and an assortment of deep-thinking movie stars residing in Periclean Hollywood have gone to great lengths to tell Americans that voter apathy is a terrible evil and that, conversely, high voter turnout is a sign of civic health.

Indeed, for several years, voting rights activists have been pushing to give prison inmates and younger teenagers the right to vote, presuming that giving rapists, killers and Justin Timberlake fans a bigger say will improve our democratic process.

The push to make voting much easier has been considerably less controversial. Weekend voting, voting by mail and online voting are constantly greeted as vital reforms of our electoral system. And although some of these reforms are probably benign, all assume that even the slightest inconvenience in voting is an outrage because democratic health is purely a numbers game: More voters equals a healthier society. My own view is that voting should be more difficult because things of value usually require a little work. That goes for citizenship, too.

Consider Internet voting. In the conventional view, the only legitimate criticism of online voting is its susceptibility to fraud. Almost no one questions its advisability if it worked - even though online voting assumes that we desperately need to hear from people who otherwise couldn't be bothered to get off the couch. Voting fetishists often liken democracy to a national "conversation" or "dialogue." So, tell me: What intelligent conversation is aided by the intrusion of Beavis and Butt-Head?

What is surprising about Doc Osterloh's wacky idea is that the franchise maximizers hate it. The New York Times dubbed it "daft" and "one of the cheesier propositions on the November ballot." USA Today called it "tawdry." Fair enough.

But I think part of the reason they're so scandalized is that Osterloh is taking their logic to its natural conclusion. Advocates of increasing voter turnout already frame the issue in terms of "what's in it for you." MTV's condescending Choose or Lose campaign, which aims to get 18- to 30-year-olds to vote, says it all right there in the name; the gravy train is leaving the station, and the ballot is your ticket onboard.

Just beneath the surface of much of this voter activism is the assumption that increased turnout would move American politics to the left, by redistributing wealth to the poor and disenfranchised. There's probably some merit here, which explains why so many get-out-the-vote groups are proxies for the Democratic Party. But that doesn't change the fact that they are trolling for votes among people who don't appear to take their citizenship very seriously. Osterloh's bribery scheme merely exposes this motivation in a way that embarrasses voter activists.

Osterloh admits that he's motivated by more than democracy worship. "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." At least he's honest about it.

What d'ya think? Personally, I'm half-way in agreement with this guy. Though any immediate incentive- at all- would drag out all the apathetic and intelligent voters off their couches, those sorts are outnumbered five to one by... well, the Beavises and Buttheads of America.

Then again, I've met those Beavises and Buttheads. When there's a serious issue at stake, some of them can surprise and shock you with how much they know. Sure, you'll have to translate their slang and cuss-filled rants into something more coherent, but the end result makes you almost hopeful about the Democratic system.

Not to mention- universal health care is a great thing for Business. >_> Big Business and Small Business alike. If we do end up with the result the author so scorns, it might turn out to be the best thing he's ever dissed.

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I don't understand the point of voting for the lesser of two evils.

I don't understand voting for a candidate you know won't win (third party lol).

I don't understand entering the lottery (you won't win).

So my feelings on voting would not be changed at all by this proposition. I don't think most people would care.

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nah, they should do it like coke does "1 in 3 wins free downloads."

That might work.

Personally, I think that voting should either be ridiculously easy or damn hard. It should either be everybody votes or only the people willing to put time and effort into voting vote. I don't care which it is, but I'd like to see either one.

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It should be reasonably simple to vote, but at the same time bribing people to vote is ridiculous. It will only lead to having a large number of uninformed, uncaring people voting for the sake of voting

Ah, but at least they're voting, instead of just sitting there on election day. Even if they don't really care, they still have opinion enough to decide whether to say "yes" or "no" to any one ballot, meaning that the end result will at least more accurately mirror the constituency's actual beliefs, as opposed to that of the vocal minority.

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