It should come as a surprise to no one that municipal elections, like the one we have coming up on Nov. 7, don’t draw the highest voter turnout.
According to King County Elections, county-wide turn out hovers around 25 percent for local primaries, and the office expects to see less than 50 percent turnout for the upcoming general election. In an effort to bump those numbers up a bit, the elections department on Monday is rolling out a couple of striking ads that more or less try to guilt people into casting their ballots.
One, called “The Struggle,” thunders through America’s history of enfranchisement in a brisk 60 seconds, with footage of the violence encountered by colonists, women, Native Americans, and African Americans as they fought for the right to vote: “You don’t have to risk your life to cast your ballot…other people already did that for you,” the video reads at the end.
The other video, called “Multiplier Effect,” drills down on some of the real-life issues that have faced voters in recent years. “Feeling stuck? Your vote helps build solutions,” the voice-over says at one point as slick animation shows a bunch of of those little bubbles you fill out on your ballot become a light-rail train running across the screen (take that as a trigger warning for those of you who opposed ST3).
“We knew it was going to be provocative,” says King County Elections Director Julie Wise. “We wanted to get people to talk about it. We thought it was important.”
Wise says that, to her knowledge, this kind of voter outreach is novel for the office. The elections department had previously produced videos featuring local celebrities like Tom Douglas explaining to people how to vote, but not why.
“Instead of being instructional, this is more about trying to elicit that strong reaction,” Wise says.
In order to reach audiences, the Elections Department will air the ads on digital video, cable, broadcast, and, in another first, movie theaters.
“We’ve never been in movie theaters!” Wise says.
The videos, produced by Mammoth, cost about $100,000. The air time will cost a total of $130,000. In an email, communications officer Kafia Hosh says this spending is lower than what’s historically been put into advertising, as the office moved “to more digital and targeted advertising” after Wise took office in 2016.
Wise notes that her office’s effort to increase turnout goes well beyond the videos. They’ve added dropboxes, increased the number of languages printed on ballots, and piloted pre-paid postage on ballots. But she’s hopeful that the videos will give this off-year election an extra nudge.
“In these odd years, these local elections, we see some really dismal turnout,” she says. “The hope is that the campaign will cause people to think.”