Column Date 2006-06-24

Seven ways to get Americans to vote

We all know America’s voting record is disgraceful – in what we are fond of calling “the greatest democracy in the world,” fewer than 60% of our eligible citizens bothered to vote in the last Presidential election.

This is totally unacceptable, and I think we have to look for new, more creative ways to encourage people to vote. Here are a few to start the ball rolling:

1. “Vote today and you could win $1,000,000!” This idea comes from Dr. Mark Osterloh of Tucson, who thinks Arizona should select one voter at random, just like the lottery, and hand him a million dollars. The idea is simplicity itself: vote today and you could be a millionaire tonight! If the good doctor gets this idea approved by a referendum in November, voter participation will go through the roof.

2. Pay people cash if they vote. Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago used to do it regularly, and it worked for him -- so why not just legalize the practice? If the U.S. Treasury offered every voter a crisp, new $10 bill, I suspect that millions more people would suddenly feel that voting is their patriotic duty. And it’s cost efficient: at $10 each, the 120,000,000 people who voted in 2004 would have cost only us just $1.2 billion– a pittance when compared with, say, our “star wars” missile defense system whose cost last year alone was over $10 billion.

3. Free gifts if you vote! At first I thought that giving out copies of the Constitution at the polls would do it. But then I realized that the NY Yankees have this down to an art. Maybe the first 5,000 voters in any district get free baseball caps...or free baseballs autographed by players or celebrities. (With political emotions running so high these days, I think “bat day” at the polls is not a smart move.)

4. Unfettered political power can be yours! If you are the 100th voter in your district, your vote counts as 100 votes! Imagine the feeling of actually controlling your country’s destiny as you pull the voting lever!

5. Free Krispy Kreme donuts! We’re talking realpolitik here -- we’re an overweight and obese country, so God bless us! If this is what it takes to get more Americans to waddle to the polls, so be it.

6. Make a good singing voice a qualification for office. That way, candidates can run for office and American Idol at the same time – increasing interest in the election and getting more people to vote.

And if nothing else works, there’s always idea #7: we could mandate that every four years, one voter will be picked at random to be President, another to be VP, two to be Senators, another to be Governor, and so on. (We’d still vote for lesser offices and referendums, of course.)

This would not only guarantee a big turnout at the polls, but it would totally eliminate gerrymandering so we don’t keep re-electing the same old people 98% of the time.

Imagine: fresh faces and new ideas in our government! Now that would be a real American revolution.

©2006 Peter Tannen