- Mike Segar/Reuters
Voter turnout in the US is often criticized for being dismally low – and indeed, a significant portion of Americans don’t go to the polls. When measuring votes cast as a percentage of the estimated voting-age population, the US ranks 31st among the 35 OECD countries. In 2012, just 53.6% of the population voted in the presidential election.
There are a myriad of reasons why people choose not to vote – they might not feel their beliefs are represented by elected officials in their district, they may think their vote can’t make a difference in the way government is run, or perhaps just don’t support any candidate on a given ballot.
Fixing those issues is an extremely complicated and complex proposition. But according to designers, there are a host of smaller, less policy-oriented ways to make the voting booth more pleasant, accessible, and desirable on election day. Business Insider asked four designers what changes they’d make to increase voter turnout.
Here are some of their ideas.
Give people free food or coupons as they leave the polls.
In an ideal world, having a say in choosing our nation’s next leader should be enough motivation for people to vote. But the statistics suggest otherwise.
Geoff Cook, a partner at Base Design branding studio, takes a realistic approach, suggesting that “as America is the capitalist society in the world, we would also add some commercial incentives to get people to the booths.”
Those incentives, he says, could come in a variety of forms. Companies could be offered sponsorships of polling places, giving them the chance to become the “official national hot dog” or “official beer” of a given election in exchange for handing out free goodies. Sponsors could also give voters discount cards, like 10% off at Macy’s or Amazon.
This way, “voters are incentivized to vote, and America’s greatest businesses get added shoppers and national exposure,” Cook says.
Turn the booths into a canvas for art.
Cook also proposes letting artists and the public decide the designs featured on the walls of voting booths. Right now, most are just white cardboard with a generic red and blue design. But Cook says an online platform could be created to crowd-source designs instead. There would be set parameters (like colors and dimensions), and residents of a certain area (a state or county, for instance) could submit designs and vote on the art they’d like to see in their polling place.
“Voted on and hung but the volunteers, this group effort could turn gyms, churches and community centers into impromptu art gallery shows,” Cook says.
The design competition would allow voters to express patriotism in a creative way, and get more people involved in the voting process before election day.
Give voting materials a world-class design makeover.
- Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Whitney Quesenbery, a co-founder and researcher at the Center for Civic Design, asks, “Wouldn’t it be nice if everything we got had text that was big enough for people to read?”
She suggests making the design of election materials – everything from registration papers to election reminders – best-in-class design, with a coherent branding aesthetic, fonts that don’t require squinting, and language that’s straight-forward and conversational.
Quesenbery says paying attention to the way materials look and read could make a big difference.
“If there was something I was going to say every jurisdiction in the country should work on – and it wouldn’t cost that much – it would be taking their materials and saying, ‘How do we design them better? How do we write them better? And how do we communicate better with voters?'”
Quesenbery points to the absentee ballots in Escambia County, Florida. There, Supervisor of Elections David Stafford made design tweaks like formatting instructions as a checklist, adding line spacing and larger text, and making the signature space colorful so voters didn’t forget about it. The changes were made after the 2014 elections, and by 2016, the number of ballots rejected because of errors or incomplete elements dropped 36%.
Give voters a little reward for their action.
- Getty / Joe Raedle
Sam von Hardenburgh, an interaction designer at digital agency Kettle, says voting should take a cue from games, and present some small reward (beyond an “I Voted” sticker) to congratulate voters after they’ve submitted their ballot.
“Some of the best (and most addictive) digital products reward users in a way that reinforces their motivation for taking action. However, the current experience of inserting a ballot into the box is nothing notable,” she explains.
Something as simple as an interesting light display or satisfying sound or graphic could make people feel acknowledged for casting their ballot and assure them that their vote counts, von Hardenburgh says. And that might make them more likely to keep voting in the future.
Customize booths to cater to different needs.
- Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Jason De Turris, Chief Strategy Officer at brand innovation agency Phenomenon, suggests that not all voting booths should be exactly the same.
One variety, for example, could be designed for people who want to spend more time learning about or reviewing what’s on the ballot before casting their vote. Those could include educational materials or videos that help people learn more about the issues and candidates. That could be especially helpful for residents of states like California that often have a list of propositions to vote on.
Another kind of booth could require some kind of online preregistration that helps voters in a hurry get in and out quickly, though this would require the creation of a website or app that voters can access in advance.
Allow people to schedule voting appointments.
- Adria Richards/Flickr
“Lines? Even the DMV has staged entry,” Geoff Cook says. “If they can do it, the US government can certainly set up an online platform to reserve time slots and give people a separate, express line to get in and out.”
That’s much easier said than done, but letting people schedule the time they want to vote in advance would assuage many fears of waiting in long lines. An appointment-scheduling feature would also allow people to pencil voting into a specific slot in their calendar long before election day comes around, lending a stronger sense of commitment to the act.
Give people flexibility about when they vote.
- Scott Miller/Reuters
Even better than appointments, Whitney Quesenbery says, would be the flexibility to vote anytime during a period of several days or even a week. That way, unforeseen emergencies, scheduling issues, work or plain old forgetfulness wouldn’t prevent someone’s vote from being counted.
Flexibility could also come in other forms – perhaps instead of assigning people a polling place based on their home address, they could be allowed to pick a place that’s convenient for them (like by their office or their kids’ school, for example.) Or perhaps everyone could be mailed a kind of absentee ballot, which they’d be permitted to drop off at mobile voting stations set up around a city or county.
“It’s thinking about how to meet people where they are,” Quesenbery says.
Vote on videos.
Most voters know who they support for president before election day, but often there are other candidates – judges, state representatives, etc – on the ballot who they know less about.
De Turris suggests that instead of only having ballot with printed names, each booth should contain some kind of video player. Then voters could decide to watch 3-minute videos about any figures or measures they are less informed about before casting their vote. (To keep the video-watching from slowing down the line, this proposal would likely need to be combined with others, such as customized voting booths and appointment scheduling.)
Make Election Day a holiday.
- Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images
This idea, of course, is popular among many other people besides designers – and some US companies are already giving employees time off to vote. So it’s not surprising that De Turris thinks it could make a difference. Beyond just closing offices, he says the holiday should also involve neighborhood- or city-wide celebrations, such as costume parties, street fairs or barbecues.
“What if people were invited to a themed party and voting was just a small portion of it?” he asks.
Make voter registration automatic.
- Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
“The real thing to do,” Quesenbery says, “is not just make it easier to fill out a form, but flip it on its head. Let’s just automatically register people to vote.”
Many countries, including Sweden, Germany, and Chile, already do this. Once a citizen becomes old enough to vote, they’re automatically eligible without having to file any paperwork.
“It’s so easy to say, ‘Oh let’s fix voter registration – let’s make the forms better, and put them online,” Quesenbery says. “But then you think, why do we have to register to vote at all?”
Create an official voting booth app.
- Flickr / Sander Spolspoel
Von Hardenburgh and De Turris both believe that a central, mobile-friendly resource should be created to educate voters and get them thinking about the ballot before election day. A free app could include videos, statements, platforms and other information about presidential candidates and other officials that voters probably know less about. Reminding people that there is more to vote on besides the next president could increase motivation to go to the polls.
Furthermore, De Turris suggests that the app could even have a pre-vote option, which could be filled out in advance and pulled up once a voter is inside the booth, making the process quicker on election day. And of course, if the app is made to be secure and reliable enough, perhaps one day we could all just use it to cast our votes in the first place – without going to a polling station at all.