July 17, 2006

Voting now more of a gamble than ever

So some guy in Arizona is proposing a ballot measure to turn general elections into lotteries, offering a shot at a million bucks to everyone who votes.

This happens to be a violation of federal laws, which make it illegal "to make an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote, or to vote for or against any candidate."

This is more than just a technicality, it's a bedrock principle of democracy, which correctly values the right not to vote as highly as the right to vote. Most people argue that civic duty values voting over not voting, but a lot of the time, there are plenty of good reasons to not vote at all.

Perhaps a way to make the Arizona measure legal is to also embrace a reform that we ought to be considering anyway: adding a "none of the above" choice to all ballots. Not only would abstainers get their shot at the prize, it would allow elected officials and the general public to quantify how much non-voting is truly apathy, as we're usually told, and how much is a protest against inadequate choices.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


That "none of the above" is a good idea in theory, but problematical in practice.

Here in Israel there's an option of voting with a blank white paper instead of a paper for one of the parties (The system isn't a ballot, it's one where you put a paper with the party/candidate you vote for into an envelope, and put that into the vote box). The original intent was to have spares, in case one of the printed pages will run out if one of the candidates turns out to be a lot more popular than expected. But it also served as a sort of protest, "none of the options", by voting with this paper without writing anything on it.

Ideally you'd hope these be counted, and treated as some protest against all the parties/candidates. And it was like that as a convention. But a few elections ago, after the percentage of the white papers became quite noticeable, they simply changed the law to make white papers into disqualified votes. So now it doesn't say anything, and doesn't count.

Were there problems other than that? Because it seems like it would be easy enough to write into the law that the votes have to be counted.

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