Shaping Democracy: A Visible Historical past of the Poll

"Ballot papers may look boring and bureaucratic today, but they are the most direct instrument of participatory democracy," says Alicia Cheng, founding partner of MGMT. Design and the current Frank Stanton Chair in Graphic Design at Cooper Union.

As the upcoming US election draws nearer, New York College turns its attention to the country's history with printed ballot papers, or "fleeting ephemera" – so called because they are required by law to be destroyed after use, and any surviving Parts are usually rare.

Temperance Tickets, Boston, c. 1876

Presented by the College's Herb Lubalin Design and Typography Study Center and curated by Cheng, the free exhibition features printed reproductions of 26 individual voices from the 19th century taken from the curator's recent book This is What Democracy Looked Like .

At the heart of the show is the idea that the ballot is a symbol of the noble but often flawed process of US democracy, whose history traces the growth of a developing electorate, but also electoral fraud and disenfranchisement.

Independent Greenback Ticket, Presidential Election, Massachusetts, 1878

"From absentee votes to protest letters, ballot papers are a direct way for us to express ourselves as citizens. However, in the past there were no rules about what a ballot looked like or how it was created," said Cheng.

"These visual artifacts show how voting has changed and help us better understand how our struggle for an imperfect system that is honest and fair may have evolved."

People & # 39; s Party Ticket, 1884, Massachusetts

The 19th century was a time of extreme partisanship in the US, where a single party was required as voters had to choose the full ticket. As a result, ballot papers were conceived as conspicuous propaganda as well as exercising their practical function.

The designs featured show how political parties used tactics such as colored inks, paper, or illustrations (which in some cases obviously contain racist slogans) so that party members could easily keep track of which votes were cast and even practice voter suppression and intimidation.

Independent Taxpayers Union Ticket, California, 1871

However, at the beginning of the 20th century, a federally regulated vote was introduced that resulted in a design better known to US voters today. This new format is also not without its problems. Examples like the infamous Hanging Chad scandal still hang over George Bush's 2000 win over Al Gore.

While the drafts were originally intended to be on display at the Cooper Union's 41 Cooper Square Gallery, ongoing coronavirus restrictions prompted curators to move the show to the Foundation Building windows instead – a reasonable use of a public space for voters to watch remember the power of design in the democratic process.

Regular Republican Ticket, Massachusetts, 1878

This is what democracy looked like: A visual history of the printed ballot can be seen in the Cooper Union until November 7;