Political News

How get-out-the-vote took over billboards in 2018

The call to vote is plastered across America. Artists, activists and brands have taken to the streets to get out the vote with visual representations meant to convey the importance of Tuesday's election.

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Hunter Schwarz
(CNN) — The call to vote is plastered across America. Artists, activists and brands have taken to the streets to get out the vote with visual representations meant to convey the importance of Tuesday's election.

In New York City, "vote" has turned into a street art tag, seen on sidewalks and signposts. In the Times Square subway station, "I'm Voting" stickers were stuck on people featured in ads for Bumble. Under a Mickey Mouse mural by street artist Jerkface, someone added "Vote" with red spray paint.

Brands are showing off their support for voting in public. Lyft covered a wall in the Lower East Side with mock ballots drawing attention to voters who don't have transportation to get to polling places. About 15 million people couldn't vote in 2016 due to transportation issues, according to data from Tufts University's CIRCLE research center, and the ride-sharing company is offering 50% off for rides to polling places Tuesday.

"We were inspired by the visual history of political signage and loved the idea of putting paint, or in this case ballots, to the wall, and New York felt like the right place to display this piece," said Zachary Kizer, a Lyft communications specialist.

Kizer said they wanted to "visually convey the weight" of the 15 million statistic and "spread the word that we want to make it easier for people to get to the polls this year."

Other brands with outdoor calls to vote include Tinder, which has an "Every 'Single' Vote Counts" campaign that's part PSA and part ad up in cities like New York and Washington.

Patagonia posted signs on its store entrances that read, "When the polls open, we close." The company is one of more than 300 that signed onto To Vote, an initiative of companies that pledged to allow their employees time off to vote.

While companies are using nonpartisan entreaties to vote to build goodwill, some non-corporate voting street art pieces are candidate-specific. In Houston, Anat Ronan painted "Vote Beto" with an image of Beto O'Rourke opening his shirt Superman-style to reveal an outline of Texas underneath.

A mural of Stacey Abrams with the word "vote" was painted on a church-themed bar in Atlanta by Fabian Williams.

In Los Angeles, street artists Thrashbird and Life After Death used an image of Christine Blasey Ford during her testimony for their murals, one of which read, "If Ford Can Brave The World, U Can Brave The Booth ... Vote."

"I think there is an ever growing awareness of what is at stake in these midterm elections," said Alessandra Mondolfi, an activist and artist who put up a window-sized "VOTE" in the front of a Miami gallery. "The future of this country hangs in these ballots, and people from all walks of life are getting out there to spread the word."

Different issues are written across Mondolfi's letters, like "Equality" and "Truth" in blue and white for Democrats, and "Racism" and "Nepotism" in black and red for Republicans.

"Art has the power to inject nuance and critical thinking into why we vote," said Michelle Woo, an art historian with the group For Freedoms, which launched a 50 State Initiative campaign to put up political billboards made by artists. Some of the billboards are explicitly about voting, while others approach the topic from "a more nuanced or subtle way."

Artist Jessica Ingram made a billboard for For Freedoms put up in Jackson, Mississippi, that reads "Vote for Vernon." It's a reference to Vernon Dahmer, a black Mississippi businessman and voter registration and NAACP leader who was killed in a firebombing by KKK members in 1966. "Vernon Dahmer gave his life for voting rights and didn't get to cast a ballot himself," the billboard reads.

His death came the year following the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which protected voting rights nationwide, and before his own voter registration card arrived, which inspired the billboard, Ingram said.

"He couldn't go vote, so go vote for him."

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