Fall elections in California nearly always feature a raft of contested local races, and this year is no exception, especially in the East Bay. This special time of year, which traditionally launches just after Labor Day, is often referred to by pundits and wags as the "silly season."
It seems that some folks in Southern California want to take that designation to a whole new level. The Los Angeles Ethics Commission has recommended and, apparently, the City Council there will actually consider, offering cash prizes to lure residents to the voting booths as a means of improving voter turnout.
While we can offer some points for creativity, the proposal goes well beyond silly. Put simply, it is just plain ridiculous.
Elections are not a game show, and a raffle is not the way to deal with a serious issue. And make no mistake, this is a serious issue.
The apathy of would-be voters in cities throughout the state and nation reflects some of the defects in local governments as well as the candidates who run for those offices.
People don't feel as connected with their City Hall as they should. There are many reasons for that. In this area, many who commute long distances to work simply don't have the time devote to civic engagement. Others are disappointed and even disgusted by some of the choices they must make. Still others have lost confidence that elected leaders are a force for good in citizens' lives.
This is particularly true in cities where government is dominated by similar voices and overly influenced by unelected leaders like public-employee unions and other self-interested pressure groups.
People who don't vote often think they're sending politicians a message, but in fact the message received is that public officials can do what they want without fear that constituents will hold them accountable or, for that matter, are even paying attention.
There are ways to change elections, beyond the reforms already in motion in California, to make voting more convenient and attractive. It should be made easier to register to vote. The accuracy and fairness of ballot counts and recounts must be ensured.
But there are no quick remedies for low voter turnout.
Mostly, getting more people to vote in local elections means rekindling civic engagement and seeing that accurate information about candidates and initiatives is readily available.
But the proposed voter lottery would be an attempt to treat the symptom instead of the disease.
If this is the kind of solution our city halls are going to produce, it's no wonder people don't vote.