If there’s one thing most of the residents of the City of Brotherly Love can agree on, it’s that voter turnout there has absolutely tanked in recent years. In off year elections they’re barely managing to get a quarter of eligible voters to show up at the polls and it’s not that much better for national elections. (If you look over the graphics at that link it’s interesting to note that Republicans turn out much more regularly than Democrats, but there’s so few of them that it still doesn’t matter.) So what to do about it?

One local newspaper has come up with an idea to tease more people out to the polls… they’ll give away a big, “random” cash prize to somebody just for voting! What could possibly go wrong? (Time Magazine)

One lucky Philadelphia resident could win a $10,000 payday just for casting a ballot in the mayor’s race.

Non-profit media organization the Philadelphia Citizen announced Thursday that a random voter will be selected on election day to win $10,000 just for voting. The lottery is sponsored by the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation, and is meant to encourage voter turnout in a city that has seen very low voter turnout in the last few years…

“Philadelphia suffers from chronic civic participation malaise. We could, as usual, stand back and wring our hands. Instead, we at The Citizen have decided it’s time for action.” Any voter is eligible to win, regardless of which candidate they select. The Citizen will select a specific polling location and a specific time, and the first voter to exit that station at that time will be the winner.

Amazingly, this scheme doesn’t appear to be illegal as there are no federal candidates on the ballot. This incentive program is just targeting the mayoral election. But there are some obvious questions about the plan which come immediately to mind, and even the paper itself refers to the lottery as “icky.”

First and foremost, having such an incentive program being run by a privately owned, local newspaper rather than the government ensures that the people who read that paper will be the most likely to know about it. And what community does this paper largely serve? The Citizen is published under the auspices of the Pamela and Ajay Raju Foundation. You can read an extensive profile of multi-millionaire attorney Ajay Raju in Philly Style Magazine. He lists among his personal heroes some folks who are tightly connected to Ed Rendell and he’s an appointee of current mayor Michael Nutter to the city’s workforce development bureau. In short, he’s in bed with the Democrats with some very expensive bed linens.

And what of the paper itself? You can browse some of the article here, but the focus on the arts community, civic justice and related causes is pretty straight forward. In other words, the people most interested in those topics and active in the liberal arts will be most aware of the prize.

An as one final consideration, who will oversee the operation of this “contest” and the determination of the winner? It seems that the staff at the paper will randomly select one polling precinct and some random time of day. The first person to walk out the door (presumably having voted) at the appointed hour will win the big cash prize. Not for nothing, but it sure would be beneficial if you knew somebody on the inside who knew which polling place it was and when the golden hour was scheduled. (Just saying, here…)

This is a very narrowly targeted market for a Get Out The Vote plan and, while legal, it raises a lot of disturbing questions. Perhaps the paper’s staff said it best already… “icky” indeed.