Voting lotteries

Sometimes you read a story in The Onion designed to be its usual ludicrous self and you think: maybe that isn’t such a bad idea. Today’s headline story is: “Scratch N’ Win Ballots to Debut in November.” Now as I waited through the ad (rather than skipping it) I though, oh this is a way to get voter participation up. Give people another reason to go to the polls and all that. A sort of ‘gift.’ Not bad.

Well, sort of, but on a scale I didn’t imagine. The idea is that the scratch and win was your ballot and you got to find out how many votes you got. So while most would get one vote lucky winners would get 10,000 or more. For those folks, their preferences would have a much bigger impact on the election. There was also some notion that you could distribute these amongst the various ballots at the same time to optimise your impact.

This is one way of addressing two big problems. First, the main issue with democracy is the fact that your vote rarely counts. This is unless you live in Florida were your vote randomly counts. The Onion idea is to translate the Florida model into reality buy giving people a positive probability that their vote will really count. That is, each person has a chance when they step into the polling booth that they will have an incredible number of votes, increasing the likelihood that they will swing the election.

Second, in the US, most congressional seats are won by incumbents. Well, with a random shot that the big winner voter is for a challenger, there may be a bigger chance that a seat will change hands. Why? Well suppose, for simplicity, that there are 100 voters, 60 of whom want the incumbent. Under traditional certain voting, the incumbent wins always. Under random voting there is a 40 percent chance the winner will vote for the challenger.

And for those who think this might undermine democracy. That is only in appearance. Before everyone turns up to the polls, the probabilistic levels of influence are equal. One person, one voting scratchy!

[Update: apparently Arizona are thinking of conducting the one vote, one lottery ticket model as a bribe for voting.]