Are young people more likely to vote if given wristbands outside polling stations that entitle them to discount drinks at nearby bars?
That’s the question L. Henry Pratt will try to answer Tuesday, when he hosts an Election Day bar crawl in Arlington’s millennial-rich Clarendon neighborhood.
Pratt, a former government teacher who became a voter-mobilization entrepreneur, and his volunteers will hand out wristbands near seven central Arlington precincts, and patrons wearing the wristbands will be able to “take advantage of the special offers from participating Clarendon bars.”
Pratt described the event as a way to “encourage young voters to celebrate democracy” — nothing at all, he said, like the politics of old-time Chicago, when party hacks would comb taverns in key precincts, paying drunks to vote for specific candidates.
“I’m not trying to control the outcome,” Pratt said. “To give someone something in exchange for their vote — that would be illegal. But right now, the only people who participate are angry or partisan or ideological, and it’s hurting our system.”
In recent years, a number of businesses that have attempted Election Day giveaways have run into trouble, including Starbucks stores and a Washington yoga studio that offered a free session for people who could display an “I voted” sticker. But Pratt said that because people won’t need to have cast a vote to get a wristband, his effort should pass legal muster.
Pratt said he formed his nonprofit group, Win the Future, Young America, after seeing a chart in The Washington Post showing the disproportionately low turnout of young voters in the 2010 election.
The pub crawl will focus on precincts that have “high concentrations of young registered voters and stunningly low turnout numbers,” the group said in a statement.
Turnout in those precincts averaged 16 percent in 2011, the statement said. In the 2012 presidential elections, 62 percent of registered voters in those precincts cast ballots.
Pratt said he came up with the wristband idea this summer, when some college interns suggested that young people would vote “if only we could park a beer truck outside of a polling place.” The bar crawl, they decided, was the next best thing.
Clarendon “is an ideal spot to do it,” Pratt enthused. “There’s a large number of young people, a large number of bars and quite a few polling places.”
He stressed that he doesn’t care who wins any of the races on the ballot, because he lives in McLean, just over the border from Arlington in Fairfax County. His only concern, he said, is drawing a larger share of Arlington’s young people to the polls.
“We’re not asking anyone to prove they voted, or even that they’re registered,” Pratt said. “If we’re at the polls, people interested in participating [in the bar crawl] can just show up there.”
Bar or pub crawls are extremely popular in Arlington — so much so that the county instituted new rules about how they are to be conducted.
One of the biggest annual crawls will take place Saturday night in Clarendon, with a Halloween theme.
On Tuesday, wristbands will be handed out to people 21 or older at the Ashton Heights, Central, Courtlands, Monroe, Park Lane, Virginia Square and Woodbury precincts from 4:30 p.m. until polls close at 7 p.m. “or we run out of wristbands,” Pratt said.
“By creating a celebratory atmosphere around the act of voting, Win the Future looks to draw more apathetic young voters out on Election Day,” the organization’s statement said. “What could be more motivating than a night on the town?”