Guest column: Does anyone care about voter apathy?

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Maybe it’s time Florida took a cue from Los Angeles and considered making election ballots double as lottery tickets.

Statewide turnout in this week’s primary elections was 17.55 percent, the lowest since 1998.

In Southeast Florida’s three Democratic Party strongholds, it was worse. Miami-Dade’s turnout was 14.4 percent, Palm Beach County’s was 12 percent and Broward’s was second to worst (Glades County) with only 10.76 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.

It was turnout numbers like those that got some Los Angeles government officials considering a pilot test of the lottery ticket-election ballot proposal.

Numbers like those also are a reminder of just how disconnected the Florida Democratic Party is from the millions of young, racially and ethnically diverse, and working class voters that should be its powerful base.

But in those three large counties, primary election campaigns and outcomes were overwhelmingly determined by a small world of party leaders, local club activists, interconnected private, corporate and other special interests, and party machinery.

It’s an insider’s game all the way. Campaign consultants for insider candidates dismiss outreach to voters who have no proven track record of voting in past midterms and primaries. Not cost-effective.

Of course, those are the voters — non-voters — who need to be reached out to. They are the disengaged millions who might become voters if given good information, and some sense of authentic inclusion in an organization that honestly represented their best interests and directly benefited them.

But the insiders spend their money contacting proven voters. They know they’ve cornered the market on maximum campaign contributions from corporations, special-interest PACs, affluent lawyers, doctors, real estate honchos and such. So they’re quite content to leave impoverished outsider candidates and campaigns to tackle the costly challenge of turning non-voters into voters.

As good and worthy of an outsider candidate as you may be, it’s almost impossible to succeed in meeting that challenge without adequate resources. So, most outsiders end up chasing the same insider votes as their insider opponents, because they’re easier to get to vote.

That usually turns out badly for outsider candidates. And for outsider voters too, who remain disengaged outsiders. Vicious cycle.

Since political consulting and media is my bread and butter, the thought here is that the cycle can be broken by outsider candidates willing to be bold, take big risks and run “outside-the-box.”

But until we see more of that … how to engage and activate more voters?

Would lottery ticket ballots help?

Maybe. But what kind of discernment and decision-making will we get from voters looking only for a lottery payoff?

An entirely new kind of public civics education might help, with information and inspiration bundled up in formats full of real entertainment value. For adults as well as schoolchildren, with multicultural, multilanguage versions, and free TV and radio exposure.

But for now, that plan has as much chance of moving forward as you’d have of winning a ballot lottery.

What if voters who turned out consistently got an escalating sales tax break, based on income level and scores on a short test confirming a broad brushstroke grasp of government and the legislative process?

Lower-income voters with higher scores would get a gold card giving them a 50 percent tax break on every purchase, a silver card good for 30 percent, and a copper card for 10 percent.

Great way to let common folks join corporations in getting tax breaks, while promoting civic education and engagement. OK, maybe a few legislative, administrative and regulatory wrinkles to iron out.

But just the thing for insiders to work on.

About the writer

Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for nonprofits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

2014-09-02T22:29:49+00:00July 30th, 2014|