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Los Angeles considers cold hard cash to reverse tepid turnout in local elections

FILE - In this June 6, 2006 file photo, people casting their ballot in the California primary election in Los Angeles. With fewer than a fourth of voters showing up for recent local elections, the city’s Ethics Commission voted Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, to recommend that the City Council consider a cash-prize drawing as an incentive to vote. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

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FILE - In this June 6, 2006 file photo, people casting their ballot in the California primary election in Los Angeles. With fewer than a fourth of voters showing up for recent local elections, the city’s Ethics Commission voted Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, to recommend that the City Council consider a cash-prize drawing as an incentive to vote. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Los Angeles is considering turning voting ballots into lottery tickets.

With fewer than a fourth of voters showing up for recent local elections, the city's Ethics Commission voted to recommend that the City Council consider a cash-prize drawing as an incentive to vote.

Commission President Nathan Hochman said a pilot program should be used first to find out the number and size of prizes that would bump up turnout.

"Maybe it's $25,000 maybe it's $50,000," Hochman said, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1uV1Ekw ). "That's where the pilot program comes in."

The Thursday vote was unanimous. The issue now moves to the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee headed by City Council President Herb Wesson, who said he's intrigued by the idea but wants to hear what neighbourhood councils and "legal beagles" think.

It wasn't immediately clear whether there was any precedent in other cities or states for such a move, which brings with it questions of propriety and legality.

Federal law prohibits payment for voting, but Ethics Commissioner Jessica Levinson, who is also an attorney and law school professor, says that statute wouldn't apply to elections without federal races on the ballot.

California law prohibits money or gifts for votes for a particular candidate or measure, or payment to stay away from the polls altogether.

Hochman said the proposed prizes would be for simply entering the voting booth.

"If they truly think there are no good candidates," he said, "we're not going to force them."

The idea may require a ballot measure for approval, depending on the source of the funding.

Other ideas for turning up turnout — including changing municipal elections to even-numbered years to sync with federal elections — could prove longer and more laborious, making faster, blunter approaches more desirable.

"We have turnout in citywide elections in the high teens and low 20s and I think that's pretty dismal," Levinson said.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com

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