Nonprofit hopes $25,000 prize lures L.A. schools’ District 5 voters

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A nonprofit voter group has a plan to turn around traditionally abysmal turnout for a key election to the Los Angeles Board of Education: It’s going to pay one lucky voter $25,000.

Those who cast ballots in the race for District 5 in the May 19 election will be entered in a drawing.

School board lottery: In the April 20 California section, an article about a $25,000 prize for voting in a Los Angeles school board race referred to a charter school organization called People Uplifting Communities. Its name is Partnerships to Uplift Communities.

The idea is the brainchild of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

“This is an experiment, a nontraditional out-of-the-box strategy” because “participation has gotten so bad,” said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the organization, which focuses on increasing voter turnout, especially within the Latino community.


The March primary for the school board drew marginal voter interest in a citywide election that also failed to attract much interest.

Three board races are going to a May runoff. Southwest Voter Registration is especially interested in District 5, because about 57% of registered voters there are Latino.

Challenger Ref Rodriguez finished first against incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is seeking a second term.

Voter turnout was just under 12% in the area, which includes Los Feliz and Silver Lake as well as an economically diverse range of Latino neighborhoods, including the cities of southeastern L.A. County.

The most notable dividing point between Kayser and Rodriguez is over independently managed charter schools, which are exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses.

Kayser has tried to limit their growth; Rodriguez co-founded one of the largest charter organizations, People Uplifting Communities.


“If overall turnout is higher, it’s hard to say what the effect would be,” said Dan Chang, who directs a political action committee that has endorsed Rodriguez. “If there is higher turnout among Latinos, the conventional wisdom is that Ref Rodriguez will do better — a Latino candidate with a Latino surname.”

Both campaigns pushed hard to win the Latino vote in the bitter, high-cost primary and said they are doing so again.

Gonzalez’s nonpartisan group hasn’t endorsed either candidate. And his lottery strategy could increase turnout among all ethnicities.

He calls the idea “voteria,” a play on the Spanish term “lotería,” for lottery.

In its current form, the area’s voting boundaries were carved out with the idea of increasing Latino representation in a school system that is more than 70% Latino.

That hasn’t happened.

Kayser is white, and that seat has had white board members for 16 of the last 20 years.

The nonprofit has never before given out money but has tried other incentives. To increase turnout in the 2004 presidential race, it held drawings to give away a new car in each of four states: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona. To enter, a voter had to recruit four others.

Gonzalez said his group has concluded that handing out a $25,000 cash prize is legal in California but would violate federal law. The plan is to publicize the contest through traditional media and social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.


Other recent projects have included phone banking to turn out Latinas in the 14th City Council District who voted rarely or inconsistently, and regional training sessions for Latinos considering a run for office.

The nonprofit has teamed with Earth Day Network and the NAACP to launch a nationwide effort to mobilize a million voters over the issue of climate change.

Twitter: @howardblume