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2010 election—please do your part

2010 September 27

As you may already be aware, if you have a phone, receive mail, use the internet, watch television or go outside… we here in America have a general election coming up soon. (And Ohio’s deadline for voter registration is even closer: next Monday, October 4.)

The charter of Modern Ideas is, as it says in the site header, “notes on design, art and culture.” That could certainly include a lot of weighty issues which play out at the voting booth. And personally, I tend to believe that almost everything is political anyway, in a sense. But, don’t panic; that doesn’t mean that I favor bringing an overt discussion of party politics into any and all things. (Mind you, I have all sort of opinions about party politics. I’m just not going to go into them here.)

I would like to make some acknowledgment of election season, though, as it is rather a big deal, and I entertain the (perhaps foolish) hope that I just might do so without seriously offending anyone.

The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) has chosen to approach this challenge, like many other officially nonpartisan organizations, through get-out-the-vote campaigns. (I created a poster for their 2004 effort, which is available on Modern Alchemy’s Free Stuff page.)

Get-out-the-vote is a nice, safe, acceptable-to-everyone activity. And certainly there is ample argument that such efforts are deserving of time and energy, given the large proportion of eligible voters who don’t vote in our country.

As I am not the first to observe, though, nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts are also kind of conceptually vague: they don’t really give people an entirely convincing reason why they should vote. Unfortunately for ambitions of comfortable, all-inclusive nonpartisanship, voting by itself doesn’t really solve any problems. Real solutions are generally going to require real, specific courses of action, which means opening the door to controversy and political argument. Thus, nonpartisan get-out-the-vote efforts are limited to encouraging a vague spirit of civic responsibility and only addressing more direct, potentially more compelling, reasons for voting, elliptically.

But, that’s the whole reason politics are controversial in the first place: you can never satisfy everyone’s every goal.

I feel like it might be possible to go at least a little further, however, in encouraging voters while remaining nonpartisan and relatively noncontroversial. Hopefully addressing another fault of traditional get-out-the-vote efforts, as I see things, that fault being the almost exclusive emphasis on a bottom line of participation.

Participation is pretty safely neutral. But, as I’ve been getting at, the awkward fact is that there is no neutral option when it comes time to actually check a box. Voting is about making decisions; it’s practically the antithesis of remaining neutral.

And if there is some desirability, nonetheless, in nonpartisan get-out-the-vote campaigns which stop short of advocating specific choices… couldn’t we at least give some more emphasis to the fact that voting does involve making decisions, rather than just showing up?

A poster saying “VOTE!” really implies, after all, that just filling out a ballot is the essential act. But is that really a message we want to send, even from a theoretical nonpartisan perspective? With nothing said about paying attention, being informed or giving serious thought to issues at stake, with the resultant implication that those things are all relatively unimportant? Can casting a ballot without any study or real consideration of one’s choices truly be called a better outcome in all circumstances than casting no ballot at all?

Perhaps I will risk giving offense by saying so, but… I have my doubts.

I certainly think that it would, in any event, be preferable to say “Study, Decide, then Vote” rather than just “VOTE!” A more complicated message, yes, and a considerably more challenging threshold to reach. But I don’t think anyone ever claimed that democracy was going to be simple or easy, you know?

And in that spirit, I shall back up my ideas with more than words. I shall back them up with graphics! Here, then, is my 2010 nonpartisan encouragement to voters:

Click here to download as a PDF

Please Vote with Your Brain (Not Your Gut)

I trust no one will find this offensive to his or her beliefs. And if anyone does… well, I’m going to be honest here… I think that means you’re just a little too easily offended. Hopefully not.

Vote, wisely, this November 2.

2 Responses
  1. September 29, 2010

    The one suggestion I might make would be to make the gut area more representative of the average American — that is, about twice as large as you’ve depicted it. Then you re-word things to say something along the lines of, “despite being a massively larger organ, your gut is much less efficient at making decisions than your brain.”

    That way, you’re much more likely to offend somebody. Which is really kind of the point anyway. 😉

  2. Matt permalink
    September 29, 2010

    Hilarious! Nice one, man.

Comments are closed.