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Wesson: Idea of luring LA voters to the polls with a lottery prompts discussion about low turnout

"He continues to have questions about the policy as it relates to exposing the city to legal liability," said Wesson's spokeswoman Vanessa Rodriguez, in a written statement.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Council President Herb Wesson says creating a lottery for voters is a provocative idea that finally has Angelenos talking about civic participation.

Let's be honest: voter turnout is not the most exciting topic for casual conversation. But throw in the concept of luring voters to the polls with a lottery jackpot and suddenly you get people's attention. 

Council President Herb Wesson said he's had more conversations on voting in the past six days than he's had in six years. That's because the Ethics Commission asked him to look into creating a lottery that would encourage voter participation in local elections.

"If we can get the community engaged, this could be a very productive conversation," Wesson said. 

Ethics commissioners suggested the city look into the creation of a lottery that would deliver a $1,000 payout to 100 lucky voters for their participation. The practice is not allowed in federal elections, but California and Arizona allow this type of incentive in local races. Still, neither state currently runs a voting lottery. Arizona voters rejected the concept of a $1 million jackpot when the proposal made it onto a 2006 ballot. 

Last year's mayoral runoff between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti attracted just 23 percent of registered voters to the polls. Wesson said it angers him to see Angelenos sit out elections because, "There was a revolutionary war fought to create this great union and how you couldn't, as a person, feel a debt and a responsibility to those who lost their lives to try to create this new concept with no kings and queens and dukes and duchesses." 

Wesson also noted, "as a minority, all of the hell that our ancestors had to go through just for the right to vote," including poll taxes and literacy tests. 

The Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee will discuss the lottery and other recommendations from the Elections Reform Commission later this fall. That commission suggested that moving city elections to coincide with state races might increase voter participation. 

Meanwhile, Wesson is seeking input on social media with the hashtag #TurnOutLA.  The request is just starting to draw a response on Twitter: