Most young Americans don’t vote. This election day, a group of design students set up a “non-voting” booth to help better understand exactly why millennials are so apathetic–and to kickstart a discussion about how to change that.
Inside the booth, set up at Washington Square Park in downtown Manhattan, non-voters left anonymous messages about their reasons for avoiding the polls and then walked off with “I Don’t Vote” buttons.
“We wanted it to be a bit of a provocation,” says Steve Hamilton, part of a class of students from the School of Visual Arts Products of Design program who created the project. “And it was–there were people who misinterpreted it and kind of accosted us, and some who took it completely un-ironically. But we were interested in gathering that kind of data.”
Visitors were invited to plaster the booth with a sticker listing a common reason not to vote, or write in their own. “Most of the logic boils down to people saying ‘I don’t feel like my vote matters,'” Hamilton says. “There are a lot of different ways of saying that.”
On an “I Don’t Vote” website, the students listed the most common reasons, like “I don’t trust the system,” and “There’s an election today?” and provided some counter-arguments, along with an ironic non-voters’ manifesto, saying in part:
I’m happy with things as they are and the trajectory upon which our country currently travels and I’m totally comfortable leaving this in the hands of others who do vote. I vow to continue complaining about our government despite choosing not to vote because I know my vote doesn’t count and that there are a lot of people and institutions who benefit from me not voting and I’d like to keep it that way.
By creating an experience that mimicked the actual process of voting, the students wanted to reinforce the message that non-voting is a political choice–and to remind non-voters that their voices do actually count. Each recording from the fake ballot box will later be shared online.
“We wanted it to be a physical engagement with the public that created a sense of what it’s like to vote, and in doing so, kind of introduce them to the process,” Hamilton explains. “People who start to vote young are statistically more likely to continue voting. If we get them in the booth to simulate the process, they’ll know what it feels like–and perhaps that will help in the future.”
While there are countless headlines and surveys about the fact that millennials don’t vote, the students wanted to bring that fact out into the real world. “The students wanted to find a way to make the invisible visible,” says Manual Toscano, who co-taught the Design and Politics Workshop behind the project. “What’s not visible in our system right now is the people who don’t vote.”