In these parts, there are two surefire ways to drive up attendance at a meeting -- a free meal and door prizes. They're rewards for merely showing up.

We should use a version of that formula to increase election turnout.

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Here's the deal:

Whether it's a church annual meeting or a township gathering, freebies are a proven attraction. Door prizes are an even greater allure than food because they also have the element of suspense.

For the ultimate in suspense, look back to last month when the Mega Millions lottery jackpot reached $656 million. That would have been the ultimate door prize.

Across the land, coworkers pooled their $1 bills to form lottery consortiums, with hopes of becoming instant retirees. The chance at vast riches drove 100 million people to buy Mega Millions tickets. That's about half of the country's adult population.

So, what if a lottery ticket was free just for showing up at an election? Turnout would be astronomical, right?

That's the idea of Norman Ornstein, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He proposes a series of lotteries for primary and general elections, with awards that could range up to the hundreds of millions for, say, a presidential-year election.

The voting stub would also serve as a lottery ticket.

Estimates are that the lottery incentive would drive voter turnout to as much as 75 to 80 percent. Currently, the United States has turnouts between 50 to 60 percent for presidential elections, 30 to 40 percent for mid-term congressional elections and 10 to 20 percent for primaries.

So, you may wonder, why should voters need to be bribed to do their civic duty? Why should we solicit votes from people who otherwise don't care?

Ornstein's reasoning is that a higher turnout will lead to a change in the substance and tone of campaigns. Currently, political consultants focus their attention on energizing their base while depressing the other party's base.

"The obvious fallout is that the issues that dominate are the ones that excite or infuriate the bases -- abortion, same-sex marriage, guns, immigration -- and the language used to whip up the bases is harsh and extreme," Ornstein wrote. "This does even more to turn off voters in the middle."

With more voters from the middle ground expected on Election Day, the issues are different and there's "more moderate rhetoric, since fiery words will turn away moderate voters."

My feelings about media people who use "fiery words" are well-documented here. I'm in favor of anything -- even an election lottery -- that will quiet lefty Ed and righty Scott.

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to