Make Voting Great Again: Inside the Plan Long Beach Has to Alter the Idea of Voting

Photos by Baktaash Sorkhabi and Brian Addison.

You can’t help but admire what the kids at City Fabrick are trying to do.

When charged by the Knight Foundation with the question of how Long Beach could become better, they looked to the people who make it what it is: active voters who lead the charge by electing their leaders, passing measures, and seeking ordinances.

Well, actually, looking at the lack of active voters.

And when addressing that lack, Long Beach faces a very hard truth: voters don’t come out but rather stay at home in droves. The April primary for Long Beach’s election? 11.5% of voters voted. Nearly 9 out of 10 voters in Long Beach refused to show up. Even with General Election time, the city didn’t fare much better: 39.7% of voters came out while that increased slightly to 40.12% for the Statewide Primary Election.

pmtv_lbize_01On any given election so far in 2016, we have had anywhere from 1 out of 10 to 4 out of 10 voters participating.

But after City Fabrick scored a $153,000 grant from Knight for its Place Make the Vote (PMTV) pitch, the time came to actually implementing the idea—something that is more difficult than it sounds, especially when you are trying to look out and activate neighborhoods and places that have historically low turnout points.

“There’s a lot of emerging efforts around trying to get residents to vote through digital technologies, like Rock the Vote,” said Brian Ulaszewski, City Fabrik’s executive director. “We thought of this idea of creating place around voting stations and events as a way to draw people in and to also celebrate democracy.”

City Fabrick introduced a prototype during the June primary, setting up shop at the Senior Center on 4th Street complete with activities ranging from games and food trucks, to a photo booth and patio furniture.

The result? It worked. The 2012 election had voter turnouts in this area ranging between a paltry  7.1-7.5%. This year? A turnout rate between 27.5% and 38.1% this year.

Come November 8, six locations throughout Long Beach will be activated:

  • The Senior Center at 1150 E 4th St.
  • Covenant Manor at 4th & Atlantic Ave.
  • Homeland Center at 1321 E Anaheim St.
  • Houghton Park at 6301 Myrtle Ave.
  • Expo Center at 4321 Atlantic Blvd.
  • Villages at Cabrillo at 2001 River Ave.

pmtv_lbize_02But how, precisely, are they activating it?

The DTLB spot—sponsored by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance—will have the Grilled Cheese Truck and live music, for example. The Bixby Knolls spot at EXPO Center? Giant lawn bowling and animation going in the two galleries (including famed Disney XD animator and director by the name Stephen Holman).

However, it goes much deeper than event planning, finding a food truck and band, and plottin’ ’em. In fact, what the behind-the-scenes details go to show is how City Fabrick delved into the thought process behind it all: design, graphic work, tchotchkes, hell, even laser-cut furniture than be reassembled endlessly.

“This is not meant to be a one-off but hopefully a project that will become systematic and applicable in all election seasons,” said Baktaash Sorkhabi of City Fabrick. “We’re really hoping to be able to share the lessons we’ve learned, leading to a permanent toolkit for other communities to use in their own neighborhoods.”

To see in action what Sorkhabi and Ulaszewski mean by “toolkit”—a term far too simplistic for what they’re actually achieving—one should take a visit to the PMTV’s pop-up shop and discover the immense amount of work being put into attracting people to the polls.

Open to the public, this space in the backroom of Lyons Art Supply (441 E. 4th Street) is not just a way to check out what the crew is using to decorate and activate the six sites aforementioned. It’s a hub of information—books, concepts, really badass pins—that can provide info for those wishing to do their own activation of sorts as well learn how to volunteer for PMTV.

Open every day until Election Day from 1PM to 5PM, the Pop-Up shop is pretty badass.

And, in other words, you should go. Because anyone in their right mind knows voting is cool and sexy and doesn’t suck—but maybe it takes a grilled cheese and some games to make it look that way. And y’know what? That’s okay.

For more information, click here.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.