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Can a $25,000 giveaway increase voter turnout in District 5?

Craig Clough | April 20, 2015

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District 5

LAUSD school board candidate Ref Rodriguez and his mother outside a polling station March 3, 2015. (Via Twitter @DrRefRodrguez)

Despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the race by supporters, voter turnout in the District 5 LA Unified school board primary in March was pretty dreadful, with only 12 percent of registered voters coming to the polls.

But now a nonprofit dedicated to getting more Latinos to the polls seems to think a little more money — $25,000 to be exact — will be enough to increase turnout in the upcoming May 19 runoff when incumbent Bennett Kayser faces challenger Ref Rodriguez.

If this sounds like a lottery, it is because it is. The organizers of the giveaway, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, are calling it a “voteria,” a play on the Spanish term “lotería,” for lottery, according to the Los Angeles Times, with one lucky vote voter pocketing the winnings.

And if this sounds as if it might be on shaky legal grounds, that’s because it is — sort of. Giving away money to voters simply for voting would violate federal law, but is legal in California, according to the sponsors.

The primary became a proxy war between two big political action committees — the teachers union’s, for Kayser, and the California Charter Schools Association Advocates, for Rodriguez.

Rodriguez won with 10,355 votes, while incumbent Bennett Kayser finished second with 9,510. A challenger with no outside support, Andrew Thomas, finished third with 6,946.

With a Latino population of 74 percent in District 5, both Rodriguez and Kayser worked hard at getting support from the Latino community, and the battle for votes turned very nasty at times.

CCSA produced a campaign flyer that accused Kayser of preventing Latino children from attending schools in white neighborhoods, and the flyer was so poorly received, Rodriguez even had to distance himself from it. UTLA, in turn, produced a flyer that referred to Rodriguez by his full legal first name, Refugio, which the charter group said had “racial undertones.”

As far as a cash giveaway to increase turnout, Rodriguez supporters seem to support the idea.

“If overall turnout is higher, it’s hard to say what the effect would be,” said Dan Chang, executive director of Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, which supports Rodriguez, according to the Times. “If there is higher turnout among Latinos, the conventional wisdom is that Ref Rodriguez will do better — a Latino candidate with a Latino surname.”

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