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 V.15 No.42 | October 19 - 25, 2006 

Commentary

Vote for Cash

Arizona has an initiative on the ballot this November that would reward one lucky voter with $1 million in future elections. Should New Mexico do the same?

Roughly half of the 64 percent of eligible New Mexican voters who bothered to vote in the 2004 presidential elections cast their ballots for John Kerry. You know who you are. You’re the wide-eyed hopefuls who awoke Black Wednesday with third-degree heartburn and both ears still ringing from the blows ... of the news that amidst widespread allegations of voter disfranchisement, fraud and electronic vote flipping in states like Ohio and New Mexico, it took less than half a day for DNC "strategists" to convince Kerry to throw in the towel.

Would winning a million dollars in the process of watching your party tank another election ease the pain?

On the other hand, if you had won a million dollars after helping Bush win another election would your head have exploded from sheer excess? Maybe. The human nervous system is designed to sustain only so much ecstasy. At some point it topples into mania, and the next thing you know you’re attacking foreign countries in random order.

But either way, some lucky voter may get $1 million richer in 2008 if Dr. Mark Osterloh’s ballot initiative passes this November in Arizona. Under his plan, one randomly selected Arizona voter would win $1 million from unclaimed lottery prize money just for showing up and voting on Election Day, according to a CBSNews.com report.

Quaint idea, but who cares? Well, the same thing could happen right here in New Mexico. According to data submitted by Sylvia Jaramillo, finance director at the New Mexico Lottery Authority, an average of $3 million in unclaimed lottery prize money was recycled back into the prize fund each fiscal year for the past five years. Unclaimed prize money for ’06 already totals $3.5 million.

Considering that number, should the state of New Mexico offer $1 million of that unclaimed booty to a randomly selected voter in both the primary and general elections starting in 2008?

“It’s a great idea,” says Matthew Farrauto, executive director of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, who was already familiar with Osterloh’s plan. “When you have a 10 percent turnout in the primary, there’s reason to recognize the importance of encouraging participation in our democratic process.”

(The Albuquerque Tribune reported a weak 20 percent participation in the June 6 primaries; only 23 percent turned out in the 2004 state primaries, which was a record low at the time.)

Osterloh, an ophthalmologist, political activist and the originator of the voter lottery concept in Arizona, says he is promoting his idea in hopes of enticing more people to go to the polls.

“We want to make sure we get everybody voting so we get truly representative government. If people don’t vote, they don’t get represented,” he is quoted as saying in the CBS report.

“We agree,” says Farrauto.

So far this seems to be an issue in which the Republicans can take the high road and stay on it without entering an enchanted portal into Opposite World, à la Bush’s “Clean Skies Initiative,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Education President,” “War on Terror,” on and on, ad infinitum.

Jonah Cohen, spokesperson for the Republican Party of New Mexico, issued the following statement in response to the voter lottery idea: “The New Mexico GOP certainly hopes for an involved citizenry in our elections, but promising a million dollars to a lucky voter is, we think, a publicity stunt which would undermine the ideals of representative democracy. We encourage informed voting based on one’s principles and knowledge of the issues; we do not believe in voting simply out of the hope of winning a lottery.”

Farrauto says he thinks “the criticism [of the plan] sounds like it’s coming from people who don’t want everyone to vote. They want only their voters to vote,” he says.

Perhaps mandatory voting is the way to go. Voter turnout for the 2000 presidential election averaged 60 percent nationwide, and 64 percent in 2004, which was considered big at the time, remember? So big that voters in urban Democratic precincts in some areas of the country stood in line for eight hours or more after their voting machines were enigmatically shuttled out to the suburbs.

Australia initiated mandatory voting in 1924 when voter turnout fell below 60 percent. Australians consider voting to be a civic duty in the same way that paying taxes to the resultant government is a civic duty ... because they have to. If you don’t get your lazy Foster’s-guzzling butt to the polls and vote in the Land Down Under, you are monetarily fined--about the retail price of a Dixie Chicks CD.

Regardless of whether the voter lottery is a good idea or not, Hoyt Clifton, a consultant for the Office of the Secretary of State of New Mexico on election matters, says someone would have to introduce the idea in a bill format to the State Legislature.

“You see, in New Mexico (unlike Arizona), we don’t allow initiatives on our ballot. Our constitutional amendments have to be passed by our State Legislature and then presented to the voter,” he says.

So there you have it, New Mexico state legislators. Remember, you get to vote too, meaning, you too would be eligible to win a million dollars! Right? Aha. Now we might see the slow, grinding roulette wheels of government start to turn.

 
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