Voters outside the 4th Street Senior Center during the June primary. Photo: Jason Ruiz
When the local design studio City Fabrick submitted its application to the Knight Cities Challenge last fall, it was charged with answering the question of how best to make Long Beach more successful.
Their answer? Get more people to the polls on election day by making it fun.
Eventually, City Fabrick won a $153,000 grant from the foundation for its Place Make the Vote (PMTV) pitch and used it to create a kit that would allow any poll in the city to become a kind of pop-up party to draw people into polling sites not just to vote, but to mingle and “celebrate democracy.” More importantly, those efforts were to be focused on areas of Long Beach with historically low voter turnout.
It was one of the 37 winning submissions that included a variety of activation efforts including a “bicycle park” in Akron, Ohio and up-cycling tree debris into furniture and art in Boulder, Colorado.
The studio rolled out a prototype during the June primary, setting up shop at the Long Beach Senior Center on 4th Street. Outside the polling station was food trucks, photo-booths, games and patio furniture that captured the attention of those walking by, and kept those who came to vote hanging around like a chad in Florida in 2004.
The bottom line is, it worked.
The senior center which services two precincts, saw voter turnout increase from the 2012 totals of 7.5 percent and 7.1 percent respectively, to 27.5 percent and 38.1 percent this year. While citywide average was 39.6 percent during the primary election, still leaving these two low-performing precincts below average, the two combined for 212 provisional ballots cast with one of the precincts registering the most (154) of any polling station in the city.
“While it’s hard to draw hard correlations between things, there was an increase in voter turnout at all polling locations in Long Beach, but specifically at our site there was the highest in provisional ballots,” said Baktaash Sorkhabi, a designer with the studio. “So we really feel strongly about the fact that we created this fun and very visible and visually engaging event right outside the polling location that helped draw more people to the site.”
It’s now expanded its efforts for the upcoming November 8 election to six sites citywide, including two that will be hosted by community partners in the Downtown Long Beach Associates (DLBA) and the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA).
The DLBA site will be located at the intersection of 4th Street and Atlantic Avenue near the Covenant Manor Senior Housing building, where DLBA Placemaking Manager Sean Warner said the group will employ City Fabrick’s PLTV signage and paraphernalia, but also entertainment financed through the DLBA like live music, a bike rack for cyclists and The Grilled Cheese Truck for voters who come craving more than a taste of democracy.
“We want to capture more than just the people that go to that polling station, but encourage people throughout downtown that have voted, and want to hang out to go to this site,” Warner said. “We just want to create a fun atmosphere for people.”
While trying to tie in fun and voting might sound as easy as getting a ninth Supreme Court Justice confirmed by the United States Senate, Warner said this year it’s a necessity—perhaps more than ever—to provide something more than a ballot box enticing residents to vote. He’s hopefulthe atmosphere provided at the various locations can not only get out the vote, but also get neighbors to come together and talk to each other.
“If they just correlate it with their own political views then it’s kind of a chore and they’re not happy, then you do have kind of depressed voter turnout,” Warner said. “But if you can attach the voting process to it being fun and really about just engaging with other residents and citizens…that was really one of the things I was attracted to.”
Civic Nation, a national organization versed in public awareness outreach efforts, will be on hand at both the DLBA and Bixby locations and have pledged phone bank services to help drive registered voters to those particular sites on election day.
The six sites will include individual themes. The Houghton Park location will take on a carnival look with small-scale rides and a dunk tank. The site at the Homeland Center on Anaheim Street will be art themed and include a curated art gallery and crafting activities. And, in an homage to veterans, the Villages at Cabrillo will be modeled after a bootcamp with no required pushups reported at the time of publication.
In addition to food options and entertainment, each site will also include a photo booth, which was the star of its prototype back in June. This time around, people won’t only get a rectangular photo-strip as a memento of having completed a civic duty, but also an animated GIF to share on social media. The group will also use the photos as a live-stream on its own social media platform as a kind of running photo gallery the day of the election.
Sorkhabi said that measures of success will come from how these polling sites perform against past voter turnouts, both in primaries and general elections, as well as provisional ballots cast by those just passing by, as in the case back in June.
However, the group is not advocating for people to cast their votes provisionally, as it may cause unnecessary headaches for city and county employees administering the election, and because provisional ballots are not guaranteed to be counted. He said the sites will have representatives available to help voters locate their corresponding voting locations to help eliminate some of the logistical hiccups that may accompany provisional ballots.
“That being said, we don’t want to stop anyone from voting provisionally and we wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from participating in our event,” he said. “It’s open to anyone, even if you’re not voting or already voted or are going to vote at another location.”
For those looking to get a sneak peak at the designs, or even help modify and customize the signage that will be deployed on election day, City Fabrick is hosting a pop-up workshop at its office during the week leading up to the election.
The project will continue to be a work in progress, and the group sees November 8 as an opportunity to further improve its product so they can be updated and used in future elections. Place Make The Vote, after all, was designed as a kit to be utilized in more than one election cycle, and in multiple cities across the country. And that’s something the studio plans to pursue after its current grant expires.
“Specifically through the Knight Cities, those tend to be one-time grants, but the way the grant was written and the way we envision the project is that Place Make The Vote is going to live beyond this election,” Sorkhabi said. “This election cycle and these four sites in Long Beach are almost an extension of the first prototype in a sense that we really want to hone in on the best part of this entire concept in online toolkits that will live on.”
The five Place Make the Vote polls for November 8th can be located at the following addresses.
- Long Beach Senior Center 1150 East 4th Street
- Homeland Center 1321 E. Anaheim Street
- Houghton Park 6301 Myrtle Avenue
- Expo Center 4321 Atlantic Boulevard
- Villages at Cabrillo