Life just can't take a joke
Once again, life imitates the ridiculous. In a joking, facetious manner, I recently suggested turning elections into lotteries, to get more people out to vote -- the idea being that everyone who votes automatically is entered into a lottery with a pot of a million dollars.
It was meant as a cynical poke at people who squander their constitutional rights as citizens by staying away from the polls in droves. But these days it's hard for even a humorist to get ahead of reality, no matter how bizarre that reality might be.
I turned on TV after writing that column to find out that Arizona actually is considering bribing citizens to vote by turning the election into a million-dollar lottery. Mark Osterloh, a semiretired ophthalmologist (which I think is either a bird-watcher, eye doctor or an eye doctor-watcher) gathered enough signatures to have the so-called Voter Reward Act put on November's ballot. If passed, the law would allow the use of $1 million in unclaimed state lottery winnings to go to one lucky voter in a drawing.
Now, I was kidding but Arizona isn't, which means we now have to engage in the tedious exercise of seriously discussing whether an election/lottery is a good idea.
For the record, it isn't. But editorial writers across the country are making that point, so I don't have to do a lot of heavy intellectual lifting. The L.A. Daily News, for example, called the lottery idea "election madness."
"Is it better to have large turnouts of ill-informed money grubbers than a smaller force of prepared, though agenda-driven voters?" the editorial asked. No. But there is an upside: It would bring in so many clueless voters that it would render polls and pollsters useless. So that would be pretty cool.
USA Today called the proposal "well-intentioned, but ill-conceived," which for USA Today is pretty wordy. (It is rumored that the tersely written newspaper once won a Pulitzer Prize for "best investigative paragraph.")
The basic tenor of criticism from the editorial-page gasbags -- even the touchy-feely liberal gasbags who wrung their hands and wept when every single vote in Florida was not counted in the Bush-Gore election -- is that people who would vote simply for a chance to win money don't deserve to take part in elections.
That's pretty harsh, considering the previous liberal chorus was that everyone should vote, even those too uncoordinated to pull an election-machine lever or incapable of mastering the complexities of a No. 2 pencil to blacken a rectangle.
In fact, after the Florida "chad" debacle, the act of voting was raised to such an exalted level that some thought the U.S. Supreme Court should consider how an individual INTENDED to vote, even if that individual poked himself in the eye with the pencil instead of actually marking a ballot. (It was generally agreed that voters of the future must have technologically advanced touch-screen computer voting machines which, ironically, considering today's subject, resemble video poker and lottery machines.)
In fact, I agreed in my last column that the teeming, uninformed masses should not vote, even though I was the one to first propose an election lottery years ago.
Some readers suggested I stole the idea after learning of Arizona's proposition. That hurts. I rarely steal ideas from citizens of Arizona, even semiretired ophthalmologists. The fact is, I stole the idea from the Thai parliament, which, as I related in a February 2002 "Honolulu Lite," was considering a lottery to bring out more voters. (I have no idea who the Thai parliament stole the idea from -- perhaps the Bangkok Elks Club.)
In 2002 I actually thought voting lotteries were a great idea because I was upset that nearly 400,000 eligible Hawaii voters didn't vote. I'm over that. Now I see it's better for democracy if only the informed vote. And that doesn't mean those informed they could win a million dollars if they go to the polls.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org