Better nudges, better citizens

As we (thankfully) near the end of the 2016 presidential campaign,  a couple of ideas for increasing voter turnout (and civic responsibility, in general) from the pages of the New York Times.

The Times cites several examples of governments that have gamified civic responsibility.  China has reduced instances of sales tax evasion by turning tax receipts into scratch-off lottery tickets. One study found that the new tax revenue amounted to 30 times the cost of the lottery prizes.

In Los Angeles, a project called Voteria offered $25,000 to a randomly-selected voter who cast a ballot in a 2015 off-year election, the kind of election typically plagued by very low turnout.  The lure of a cash prize increased voter participation by 46%.

Not everyone loves the concept.  One high-minded commenter on the Times article sniffs, “Using incentives to ‘nudge’ people into their duties is at odds with the notion of a self-governing citizenry. In a republic, citizens are supposed to be motivated by civic virtue.”   But in the context of a world where many leaders and would-be leaders seem to lack civic virtue, is this really such a profane idea?

Facebook tried something even simpler – just reminding people.  When users logged into Facebook in September they were greeted with a reminder – “Are you registered to vote?  Register now to make sure you have a voice in the election.”  On the first day of the campaign, a nearly unprecedented 123,000 Californians registered to vote or updated their registrations.  Other states saw similar activity.