LEWISTON – A novel initiative in Arizona is hoping to increase voter participation by giving everyone who turns out on Election Day a chance to win a million bucks.

The idea combines politics and gambling into an idea that could pay off for one lucky partisan, no matter who he or she votes for.

The initiative, which will appear on the Arizona ballot this fall, was proposed by Mark Osterloh as a way to increase participation by giving voting some of the cachet of the state’s successful lottery enterprise.

Mainers have a passionate affair with the lottery and already love to vote, but one state expert on both says the state doesn’t need such a gimmick to boost participation.

“I don’t see it as a good fit for Maine,” said Dan Gwadosky, the director of the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

Before taking that job in January 2005, he served eight years as secretary of state, charged with overseeing elections. He’s also a former speaker of the House and served 18 years in the Legislature.

“Traditionally, Maine has some of the highest turnout in the country already,” he said.

Osterloh’s slogan – “Who wants to be a millionaire? Vote!” – captures the sentiment of a television empire that roared to success on ABC by asking a question that everyone answers the same way: “Me.”

Osterloh’s plan, according to press reports, would give every voter an equal chance to walk away on Election Day with $1 million, paid for from unclaimed lottery prizes.

In Arizona, the chances of turning civic duty into a windfall would be about 1 in 2 million.

In comparison, the odds of winning Power Ball, with its enormous jackpots, are 1 in 146 million, according to the Maine Lottery Web site; for winning the Tri-State Megabucks jackpot, the odds are about 1 in 5 million.

‘Not a good fit’ for Maine

If Osterloh’s Arizona scheme were to apply in Maine, the odds of winning would be much better.

Maine has a history of high voter turnout, particularly during presidential elections. In the 2004 presidential contest, 740,752 people voted.

As long odds go, a 1-in-740,000 chance at winning $1 million is pretty good. The odds would get better in non-presidential years, when participation typically drops. In the 2002 gubernatorial race, 505,190 people voted.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, Maine sold $228 million in lottery tickets and sent about $50 million to the General Fund, Gwadosky said.

Calling the idea of a vote lottery a bit gimmicky, Gwadosky said it’s a question of priorities.

“Is that $1 million better spent on health care, tax relief or improving the state or is it better to use it to stir the pot on Election Day?” Gwadosky said.

Better ways to encourage voting

Unclaimed prizes from the state’s scratch tickets go into the General Fund, Gwadosky said, and run between $1 million and $2 million annually. Scratch tickets account for about 70 percent of state lottery sales.

Unclaimed Power Ball and Megabucks prizes have to be returned to players in other ways, he said. He used as an example the recent give-away of lawn tractors to players.

“In the old days, back during George Washington’s time, they used to give out alcohol to encourage people to vote,” Gwadosky said. “And I’ve seen variations where (places) have attempted to do smaller raffles.”

But if the goal is to increase voter turnout, Gwadosky said there are better methods than a lottery.

“Maine has brought down many of the barriers against voting,” Gwadosky said, and that approach has been successful.

Maine allows same-day registration, makes it easy for voters to get absentee ballots and worked to make voting accessible, Gwadosky said.

“Even with a lottery, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to get better results,” Gwadosky said.

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