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Boosting voter turnout

May 02, 2010|By Dan Evans

Why people choose to show up to the polls — or choose not to — is almost as varied as the people themselves. Some can’t find the time, some don’t like any of the choices, and others just don’t care. The recent nastiness in the 43rd Assembly special election certainly did not help things, and I predict that the blizzard of mud sure to come as the next round of balloting approaches in June will only depress turnout further.

But, I will admit, voter apathy is talked about so often and so frequently that many people just tune it out. A different idea is needed.

Enter Lynn McGinnis, a retired Rosemont Middle School American history teacher. He has a simple suggestion: Why not get people to “adopt a precinct” in the same manner groups get together to clean trash off the side of the road?

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Under this idea, local nonprofits and service clubs would focus their energies on a particular precinct or group of precincts. The groups would then compete against one another for cash prizes in two categories: the largest increase in the number of voters, and the largest increase in the percentage of voters. Both categories would take as their baseline the number and percentage of voters in the same type of election in the previous cycle.

Local businesses and individuals would underwrite the prizes, providing an outlet for people interested in democracy generally, but uninterested in campaigning for a particular candidate or proposition.

McGinnis said he tried out this idea in New Mexico a few years ago. With the help of the League of Women Voters chapter in Albuquerque, he adopted a handful of precincts, more than doubling the voter turnout in those areas.

“We just didn’t have the support and funding,” he said. “But I really think it could be much bigger.”

Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, said he’s all for creative ideas, but this one might need a little work.

“A lot of this would depend on which precincts are chosen,” he said.

Without a significant amount of care, Stern said, organizers would be accused of trying to throw an election toward, or against, a particular party or group.

“It’s harder to get younger people to the polls than older ones; easier to get Republicans than Democrats; wealthier people are more likely to vote than poorer people,” he said.

I do understand Stern’s concerns, and I agree that they are not minor issues. However, if we don’t try out new ideas, few things are likely to change. Are you satisfied with voter turnout percentages in the high teens? Me neither.

Drop Lynn a line at mcginnix@aol.com if you’re interested in his idea. It just might work.


Get in touch DAN EVANS is the editor. He may be reached at (818) 637-3234 or by e-mail at dan.evans@latimes.com.

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