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Arizona considers election lottery

Lottery balls spin

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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: We conclude our midterm election series "The Real Agenda" with a look at efforts to motivate the cynical electorate. Only 37 percent of voters turned out for the last midterm election back in 2002. This month Arizona has placed a novel initiative on the ballot. It would use the incentive of money to help get voters to the polls. Claudine LoMonaco reports.


CLAUDINE LoMONACO: Arizona has a reputation for maverick politics.

Much of that can be attributed to Mark Osterloh. He's a 53-year-old Tucson eye doctor and lawyer who has pushed through initiatives that many say represent the best in Arizona law, from clean elections to expanded health care coverage to getting rid of gerrymandering.

These days, he's hawking his latest scheme to save American democracy.

MARK OSTERLOH: Anybody that does not go to polls November 7 is throwing away a chance to become a millionaire. Not smart.

The initiative would automatically enter everyone who votes in a million dollar lottery. He says that once people get in the habit of voting, even if it's because of a financial incentive, then they'll get educated about the issues.

Even by Osterloh's standards, some people see this as over the top.

OSTERLOH: People say there's just something morally wrong with this, this is just going to degrade democracy. Hey, democracy is quite degraded right now because nobody is voting.

Osterloh got the idea from countries like Australia, which fines citizens for not voting. Australia has a 95% voter turn out rate. Osterloh says politicians would better represent people here if more voted.

OSTERLOH: If incentives are good enough for God, they're good enough for the voters of Arizona.

Opponents to the initiative fear that this will draw uneducated voters just in it for the money. Some say it's more than just misguided.

JACK CHIN: It's illegal.

That's University of Arizona law professor Jack Chin.

CHIN: So federal law says you can't pay people to register to vote, to vote, or to vote for or against a particular candidate. If we allow anything, then somebody is going to figure out how to use that to pervert the outcome of elections.

Chin says he doesn't have anything against the lottery.

CHIN: I buy lottery tickets and I hope I win. But I understand the difference between participating in an election and going to the Circle K and buying a Powerball ticket.

Which he does twice a week.

CHIN: Hi. Can I get a $5 10-draw for Powerball?

Dominick Leon is a clerk at Circle. He sells hundreds of lottery tickets a day, and he think the initiative might get some more people out to the polls.

DOMINICK LEON: But they shouldn't vote because of the possibility of making a million dollars. They should vote because they're making decisions that run this country. That should be enough reason right there. You shouldn't have to blackmail them with cash. That's all there is to it.

He's going vote for the initiative anyway.

LEON: Because I vote and I'm like what the hell, a million dollars. I'm all for that.

From Tucson, Arizona, this is Claudine LoMonaco for Marketplace.

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