May 25, 2006
Making Voting Rational?
Posted by Christine Hurt

I've often heard people say that voting in national elections is not rational.  My vote will not make any difference, so it is rational for me to save my time and effort; of course, if everyone acted rationally, then not voting would not be rational any more.  Well, put that aside.  Let's making voting a rational act!

An Arizona ophthalmologist and sometimes political candidate has filed an application with 185,903 signatures to put a measure on the 2006 ballot there.  The measure would use unclaimed Arizona Lottery prize money to randomly award one million dollars to an eligible voter who casts a vote in an election.  (From various newspaper articles and NPR, I'm guessing that the lottery applies to voters in the September primary and November elections in biannual congressional elections and not in every election or special elections, but I'm not sure.)

Opponents of the measure emphasize that anyone that would vote just to get a chance at a $1 million prize are not the kind of people that we should want to vote.  I guess that sounds persuasive, but do all other voters have really good reasons?  And if really smart voters realize that voting is irrational, maybe this will persuade them back into the voting fold.  Also, as the articles point out, some residents choose not to register to vote for dumber reasons, like avoiding jury duty.  I think I'm leaning toward Dr. Osterloh on this one.

Oh, and one more thing.  According to this site, the odds of winning Powerball (played by residents in Arizona) is one in over 80 million.  Arizona, on the other hand, had a little over 2 million voters cast ballots in the 2004 general election.  Your odds may be better voting, although the pot is smaller!

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