Each year TEAGUE teams up with Western Washington University to help students build their knowledge of design discourse and professional practice in the discipline through a hands-on collaborative project intended to challenge current thinking and suggest new ways of looking at the world. The 2012 design brief—Access Over Ownership—inspired two concepts: Vote+ & Local Kitchen.

Vote+ is a suite of connected tools that aims to increase US citizen participation in the democratic process by making the activity more personal, convenient, secure and engaging.

Everyone has an opinion. Unfortunately those opinions don’t always translate in to votes. In the US it’s estimated that only 50% of the nation votes. There are a number of factors that inform low voter turnout, access to information, to forms, and a host of other barriers. But in an era where social networks, twitter and other online forums are a hive of activity and debate this number remains staggering.

As the success of social media illustrates, having an opinion isn’t the problem. Taking action that communicates that opinion is. Vote+ facilitates this by tackling 4 opportunities for improvement: Making it personal. Making it convenient. Making it secure. And driving participation by making the end to end experience engaging.

The big shift was to reframe voter engagement by leveraging local issues to attract voters into the process. Vote+ provides individuals the tools they need to document and broadcast local issues they care about (in this case a pot hole). Connected tools and online services let you track interest in your cause as others weigh in and help advance it toward regional ballots and measures. Activity is also tracked by dynamic ledger boards which are easily installed at community gathering spots like cafes, malls and grocery stores.

Watching issues advance from the local to county and state level pulls community members into the process and can spark interest in the general electoral process. Each ledger boards provides localized information in easy to read graphic brochures that make local politics understandable. A key feature of the Vote+ brochure is the Values Template, a smart solution that lets you quickly identify candidates from across party lines that share your concerns.

Time needed and access to polling sites is frequently cited as a key barrier to voting. Vote+ removes those barriers by providing tools and safety measures that greatly expand the number of serviceable voting sites available. Onsite vote handling is managed through dedicated scanners that digitally encrypt voting records and provide voters a printed receipt with a unique reference code, which can be verified online to ensure accuracy.

By making voting more personal, convenient, secure and engaging, Vote+ aims to lower barriers that have traditionally made participation in the electoral process unappealing and inconvenient. In an age that has witnessed the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, Vote+ aims to reorient community interest into mainstream participation in the mother of all social apps: democracy.

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