LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — The city Ethics Commission suggested Thursday that the City Council may want to consider offering lottery-type prizes as a way to boost voter participation and turnout.

The informal plan would award $1,000 in cash prizes to about 100 voters for showing up at their polling places, Ethics Commission President Nathan Hochman said.

City Council President Herb Wesson heard the pitch during what was described as a “chat” during today’s commission meeting. Wesson described the proposal as “exciting” and one that would likely generate a “spirited debate.”

According to Hochman, the lottery could be an inventive way of reversing a “dangerous” drop-off in voter turnout rates, which ranged from 15 to 23 percent in city elections last year despite candidates spending some $64 million on their campaigns.

During primary elections in June, LA County as a whole saw the lowest voter participation rate – 13 percent – of any county in California, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Prize money could come from the city’s matching funds program, which gave out nearly $10 million to eligible candidates last year, Hochman said.

But since voter approval is required by the city charter before the matching funds could be used for prizes, commissioners suggested the City Council may want to consider a different source of funding to bypass the ballot process – which some say would essentially be voters voting to reward themselves for voting.

Another criticism often leveled at such incentive programs is they may draw more uninformed voters to polling places, a charge that Wesson rejected.

Voter turnout lotteries are legal in California and Alaska, but only for local elections. U.S. law prohibits luring voters to polls with money for federal elections.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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