Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Incentives offered to apathetic US voters

PARTICIPATION Arizona voters are being asked to approve a lottery for those who cast their ballots, while coy `My First Time' ads are aimed at young, single women

AFP , WASHINGTON

Apathetic US voters are being offered money and a hint of sex to get them to got to the polls in legislative elections on Nov. 7.

An ballot initiative in Arizona proposes to award US$1 million by lottery to one lucky voter to entice more people to exercise their civic right.

The initiative's sponsors say the cash reward is an appropriately American-style solution to the perennial lackluster turnout by the US electorate, which lags behind voter participation rates in Europe and elsewhere.

Denounced as a crass appeal to greed without legal foundation, the initiative appears headed to defeat according to recent polls.

But if cash fails to motivate voters for the midterm elections, a sexy national advertising campaign just might.

In new video spots released over the Internet, Hollywood actresses make eyes at the camera as they engage in sexual innuendo about the "first time" they voted.

"You want me to tell you about the first time I did it?" TV star Angie Harmon asks coyly in the public service announcement.

"I was one of the last one of all my friends to `do it'," says Regina King, who played Ray Charles' mistress in the film Ray.

The spots, sponsored by the non-partisan group "Women's Voices.Women Vote," target the US' fastest growing demographic group -- unmarried women.

The public service ads, entitled "My First Time," are an attempt to encourage voting without mother-like scolding, said Page Gardner, Women's Voices president.

"If you look at all the ads that are ever done about `go vote,' it does remind me of this `eat-your-peas' approach to politics," Gardner said.

"We need to get voting out of a just a political conversation, make it a more cultural conversation about voting," she said.

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has lashed out at the ads as degrading to women.

"Now I want to ask you, is this clever or is this demeaning?" he said.

But Gardner defended them as "empowering" and added: "If anyone has a problem with getting more and more people to vote in this country, that frankly is beyond my comprehension."

Previous attempts to persuade more people to cast ballots have had mixed success, despite campaigns with pop stars telling younger voters to "Rock the Vote."

Turnout for midterm elections such as the Congressional polls on Nov. 7 tends to be much lower than in presidential election years, with eligible voter participation hovering at 40 percent or lower.

Turnout in the last presidential vote in 2004 was the highest in years by US standards, with 64 percent voting.

The man behind Arizona's proposed million-dollar lottery prize says offering voters a cash incentive will succeed where previous get-out-the-vote efforts failed.

"We've tried everything under the sun and nothing has worked," said Mark Osterloh, a Tucson doctor and political activist.

Arguing that rewards are widely accepted in the workplace and the classroom, Osterloh said the same principle ought to be applied to turnout.

"Let's motivate them with a good old capitalist incentive," he said in a telephone interview.

Experts who study US elections say low turnout is a complex problem that cannot be solved quickly or easily.

Declining schools, a fragmented society with a growing gap between rich and poor, weak political parties, vicious partisan attacks and shoddy media coverage are among the factors at work, said Curtis Gans, director of the American University Center for the Study of the American Electorate.

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