Voters outside the 4th Street Senior Center wait in line for the photo booth at the Place Make the Vote event during the June 7 primary. Photo by Jason Ruiz.
In continuing its partnership with City Fabrick to try and stimulate higher rates of voter turnouts in areas that have historically seen few people participate, the Long Beach City Clerk’s office accepted a portion of a grant last night that will help provide for additional coverage during the November elections.
The two partnered earlier this year, along with the Long Beach Rising, Cal State Long Beach and the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder County Clerk’s office in a “Place-Make the Vote” function. Essentially a party at the polls, City Fabrick helped turn a senior center on 4th Street into a destination for food, fund and casting a ballot.
“The idea that we had for Place Make the Vote was to use people, use place-making as a way to expand voter engagement and hopefully get voters to linger with their fellow residents and hopefully spark the synapses in the community to continue being civically engaged,” said City Fabrick Executive Director Brian Ulaszewski.
That party at the polls resulted in a spike in provisional ballots cast at the location where they launched their prototype during the June primary. Ulaszewski has plans to expand to four locations during the November 8 election, when the country will elect its next president, and locally, voters could determine the fate of medical and recreational marijuana.
"That was something that we could really point to as a success," Ulaszewski said of the provisional ballots. “We had people walking up and asking 'Hey, can I vote here? I live in North Long Beach or I live in Santa Monica.' We saw that voters saw it and just wanted to participate."
The $30,000 awarded to the city clerk’s office was part of a larger grant that City Fabrick was awarded in April when it won one of the Knight Cities Challenge grants. It will help pay for a specialist for the city clerk to help plan for and execute the four separate Place Make the Vote events in November.
City Fabrick was awarded the one-year $153,600 grant by Knight Cities, which helped the firm create its kits for the Place Make the Vote initiative, which included a parklet, photo booth, food trucks and giant Jenga games for voters to enjoy as they waited to vote or mingled with neighbors afterward.
Their efforts were lauded by the council, some of whom shared stories of similar efforts undertaken by individuals in their own communities.
Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that what makes the Place Make the Vote effort more powerful is that City Fabrick has made the signage and materials readily available to be printed by individuals, something that could extend the idea past the people currently executing it. She said a 93-year old woman in her district, a poll worker for 35 years, had turned her station into one of the higher turnouts in the city but she won't be around forever, which makes City Fabrick’s efforts and templates all the more important.
“What you’re doing is meaningful and powerful, and the fact that you’re providing the tools for it to be carried on past a single person is remarkable,” Mungo said.
Cracking the code of increasing voter turnout has been something that the city has struggled with historically. Though it fairs better in presidential election years, average voter turnout has hovered around 20 percent in midterm elections. Vice Mayor Rex Richardson pointed to the hard data of the influx of provisional ballots cast at the place making event in June as potential that this effort could be on the right path.
“A lot of folks believe they have it down to a science, but every once in a while, there’s an innovative idea and it changes the way things operate across the country,” Richardson said. “This is one of those things that I think has that potential.”