Grassroots art campaign: stay home and vote by mail

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Posters help people learn how to vote by mail

A new project asks Philadelphians to display artist-created posters in their windows to help their neighbors learn how to vote by mail. (Streets Department)

Pennsylvania’s primary election has been pushed back to June 2 this year because of the pandemic, but the number of places where Philadelphians can cast their ballot has shrunk significantly, by nearly 80%.

An alternative to voting in person is voting by mail. A grass-roots visual art campaign has launched, featuring a series of three posters proclaiming “COVID Can’t stop us, Be safe, Vote by mail.”

It’s easier than you might think.

“It’s straightforward. But it’s a new thing,” said Conrad Benner, the creator of the StreetsDept.com street art blog and curator of this mail-in voting campaign. “If we show people that people are doing it, they’ll do it themselves and see how easy it is.”

Earlier this year, before the pandemic shelter-at-home order, the Pennsylvania legislature had relaxed the conditions by which people can vote by mail. No longer do you have to prove you are out of town or otherwise unable to vote in person in order to get an absentee ballot.

You can make an online request for a ballot to be mailed to you, if you have a valid state driver’s license or ID. Those without a state-issued identification or reliable access to the internet have to call 1-877-VOTESPA (868-3772) to request the ballot.

The deadline to request is May 26. The deadline to return the ballot by mail is June 2.

“Given the circumstances around COVID voting by mail is, I believe, the safest way to vote,” said Jen Devor, an election advocate who spearheaded this campaign. “Without the state automatically sending everyone a ballot, I was concerned people would be left out.”

Devor approached Benner to coordinate three local artists — Martha Rich, Marian Bailey, and Manuela Guillén — to design original posters in whatever style and imagery they choose, with bold colors and instructions on how to request a mail-in ballot.

Each poster is available in the four most-spoken languages in Philadelphia: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin.

At the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, thousands of homebound Philadelphians started to put drawings of rainbows — often done by their kids — in their windows across the city as part of the One Philly grassroots community art project.

Now, on the eve of a primary election, Devor and Benner are piggybacking on that concept for their #VoteByMailPHL campaign. People are encouraged to either pick up a poster from a participating community nonprofit, or download and print one for themselves and hang it in the front window of their home.

Benner wouldn’t mind if individuals designed their own poster, if they like, with all the pertinent information.

“In a normal year we would have done a mural or a wheat paste campaign in a high traffic area,” said Benner, who has used street art for get-out-the-vote campaigns in the past. “Philadelphians, by and large, are following guidelines: stay home. If you have to go out then stay in your neighborhood. That’s why we want people to print these or make their own and put in their windows so neighbors can get this crucial information.”

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