This is not an ad: Vote on Nov. 3 and you could win $10,000
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Philly’s voter turnout is disheartening.
For the most recent primary election in May, just 27 percent of registered voters in Philadelphia showed up to the polls. But Philly isn't alone in this. Large U.S. cities have seen a major decline in urban votership over the last several decades, and with no quick-fix remedy in reach, civic-minded groups are trying to boost engagement in any way they can. In May, we saw get-out-the-vote initiatives and even a voter education week. Now, less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 general election, there’s some money on the table.
The Philadelphia Citizen, a news startup from former Philadelphia Magazine and Daily News editor Larry Platt, has launched a $10,000 lottery in hopes of boosting civic engagement. Anyone who votes on Nov. 3 will be automatically registered to win the five-figure sum. Platt cited a “successful” $25,000 voter lottery in Los Angeles six months ago, which was for a single-district race. The Los Angeles Times editorial board called the lottery “a gimmick that perverts the motivation to vote” and a “superficial pseudo-solution to a very real problem in Los Angeles, which is the pervasive civic malaise that prevents so many eligible voters from feeling truly engaged.”
Criticism was anticipated here as well.
Ajay Raju — CEO and president of Dilworth-Paxon LLP, partner of the Philadelphia Citizen, and the moneyman behind this new lotto — recognized the complications. At first he thought the idea was condescending, but eventually agreed to back the $10,000 experiment for two reasons. First as “penance” for his own “30 or 35 percent” voting record. (It’s easy to make excuses not to vote, he said.) On the other hand, he thinks the lottery is more likely to bait conversation about civic engagement rather than bring landslide voter turnout.
“I can see...why it can be perceived as crass,” Raju told AL DÍA. “But keep in mind, the insiders that do vote — the ones who are active and participating in civic politics — they have a financial incentive. The ones who don’t vote usually don’t have a financial incentive. So this is much more of an indirect way to say ‘come out.’ Is this the right or the only approach? No. It’s really just to spark the conversation.”
Raju describes himself as moderate Republican — a “Bill Clinton Republican or Jack Kemp Republican.” But he became an Independent in protest of the right-wing presence in national GOP. As a former Republican, he compared Philly elections to a Harlem Globetrotters game: even though the Washington Generals (the Republicans, in this analogy) show up to play, the Globetrotters (Democrats) always come out on top.
And what about the Democrats who don’t vote? Droves of Philadelphians share that “pervasive civic malaise” with Los Angelenos. The city’s lowest-income communities say they haven’t felt the political love in a long time — not even during the campaign season. Raju agreed, but added that both sides need to meet halfway.
“I am the poster child of somebody who is imperfect,” he said. “But if our heart is there, and all of us have less cynicism and just do it, you never know. Sh** may change.”
Flyers advertising the lottery in both English and Spanish (pictured below) will be circulated over the next two weeks. Raju added that he hopes news reports about the lottery will contribute to conversation about the upcoming election.