IN 1991, when I was elected mayor of Philadelphia, 61 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls to vote. It's nearly 25 years later, and our voter-participation rate has consistently declined ever since. When Michael Nutter was elected in 2007, that number dropped to 29 percent. The low point very well may have been the general election of 2013, when only 11.5 percent of registered voters pulled the lever. That means maybe 4 percent of our population picked our leaders. In last spring's primary election, turnout was a paltry 27 percent - stunning, given that there was an open mayoral seat in play.

This is not just a Philadelphia problem. On the national stage, turnout for last year's midterm election was the worst it has been in 72 years. But our lack of participation is particularly bad here, where American democracy was born. We're approaching a crisis. With rulings like the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which has concentrated political speech in the hands of those who can afford the loudest bullhorns, and the spread of gerrymandered electoral districts, it's no wonder voter apathy is so widespread. Our Founding Fathers intended for our voters to choose our politicians, not the other way around. It's a new type of taxation without representation; too many good citizens have ceased to believe their vote matters.

Recently, the Philadelphia Citizen, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to jump-starting civic engagement and reigniting democracy, announced a voter lottery come Election Day. Funded by the Ajay and Pamela Raju Foundation, the Citizen will award $10,000 to a random voter. In Los Angeles, where this type of experiment was first tried, turnout increased significantly.

Now, I'm not sure luring people to the polls with the possibility of a financial windfall is the ultimate answer. But I support anything that can turn the tide on this issue. President Obama has floated the notion of compulsory voting, as in Australia, where more than 90 percent of eligible voters actually vote. Others have asked, why do we vote on a Tuesday? Why not have a voting week? Why not follow California's lead, which last month passed a law that automatically registers voters when they interact with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles?

Also recently, more than 100 fourth- and fifth-graders questioned our mayoral candidates at a forum sponsored by the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement. The questions were smart and moving. I urged those kids to get in the habit now of being civically engaged and to see the act of voting as a form of empowerment. "If everybody voted, they'd listen to us more in Washington and Harrisburg," I said, "and you can be sure Harrisburg would be giving us all the money we need for our school district and our children."

We need to start a national conversation about reviving our voting rights. "Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except for the American people themselves," said Franklin Roosevelt, "and the only way they could do this is by not voting." Come Election Day, don't give up your right to have a voice in the affairs of your city. Who knows? You may end up winning $10,000.

Ed Rendell is former mayor of Philadelphia, former governor of Pennsylvania and a football analyst.