Arizona's (Defeated) Voter Reward Act
And so Arizona's Initiative, Proposition 200, to enter primary and election day voters in a lottery for a $1 million prize, funded by two years' of unclaimed lottery prizes, was defeated. It is politically correct to wish for higher voter turnout, but then incorrect to contemplate mandatory voting , as is found in some other democracies. But it turns out that while we do not like sticks, which is to say penalties for not voting (Australia has a $20 fine, sufficiently enforced that it was paid by some 50,000 persons in the last election there), we do not like carrots either. Arizona's plan would have offered voters the equivalent of a lottery ticket each time they voted in a general or primary election. Of course the expected value of this lottery ticket would have been fairly low, and had Arizona simply paid 50 cents or a dollar to each voter, who could then have turned around and purchased a lottery ticket with the money if a shot at a million prize was preferred, we do not imagine voter turnout skyrocketing. Instead, the mainstream preference, at least for mainstream politicans and academics, is for somewhat easier voter registration rules and procedures. Even if these are more expensive, they are politically more correct or acceptable.
But why did Arizona's voters turn down the lottery? One might think that a rational voter would reason that since he or she is already inclined to vote, why not trasnfer wealth, albeit a very small amount in expected value terms, from the purchasers of lottery tickets to the likely voters? The easy and conventional response is that the plan was seen as unseemly; alternative uses of lottery revenues were preferred; or the proposition was feared to be illegal as vote buying (though courts do not like to strike down plebiscite directives).
Those of us who like positive political theory might prefer rationalist explanations. Perhaps likely voters simply prefer for turnout to be low. It is not so much that their own votes matter more, because each vote is of negligible value, but rather that a majority of voters think they will be in the majority, and they fear that with much greater voter turnout the mix of voters would be different and they (the likely voters) would be less likely to get their way. A weaker version of this argument is that voters believe something that is backed up by evidence - that nonvoters have about the same preferences as voters. In that case there is no point in wasting money on schemes to increase voter turnout. Both these theories are supported by another interesting result in Arizona on Election Day this week: Voters turned down a proposal to switch almost entirely to voting-by-mail, with every registered voter receiving a postage-paid ballot in the mail.