- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

People who think the tenor of American political debate has bottomed out should keep an eye on Arizona’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” ballot initiative this November. The idea is to award a $1 million prize to a single lucky voter in what is being sold as a Vegas-meets-good-government turnout gimmick. This is a direct assault on the notion that good citizenship should entail at least a small amount of self-motivation. If enacted, it promises to further cheapen politics by injecting base motives into the electoral process and by creating another incentive — as if any were needed — for sound-bite electioneering.

“People buy a lot of lottery tickets now,” crowed Mark Osterloh, the Arizona Democrat behind the idea, to the New York Times. “[A]nd the odds of winning this are much, much higher.” As indeed they are: About 2 million Arizonans voted in the 2004 elections, compared to the millions of tickets in a lottery. Mr. Osterloh thinks these odds could be the key to get people more involved in politics.

But this presumes first that voters who are so devoid of civic-mindedness that they need to be bribed in order to vote are worth attracting. It also presumes that government — not activists or politicians — should do the attracting. But this can only cheapen the electoral process. “Basically our government is elected by a small minority of citizens,” offers Mr. Osterloh.

That minority consists of people who care enough about the country’s future to give up an hour or two to go vote. It’s not much to ask. Why should government contort itself for people who think voting is not worth two hours of their time?

A few years ago, two professors at Yale and Stanford conjured something called “Deliberation Day” with a similarly enlightened eye toward the unmotivated masses. “DDay” would be a mandatory national day of political reading and discussion in the run-up to an election — where voters get briefing materials prepared by “experts” on the political subjects of the day. People would be paid $150, courtesy of the American taxpayer, for their trouble. Of course, it would be “experts” like the professors who would choose the “experts” who prepare the papers. How convenient.

Civic-mindedness cannot be forced on disinterested people. While the American electorate has long failed to live up to the best aspirations of good-government types like Mr. Osterloh, that’s no reason to corrupt the process to suit them. Not that Arizona’s political class has much to say about it: Gov. Janet Napolitano has declined to take a position. Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain have also been quiet. If Arizona approves this come November, we will then be reduced to hoping that what happens in Arizona stays in Arizona.

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