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Nonprofit VOTE, but more can be done. A modified form of what is sometimes referred to
as co-design would move us away from the spectacle of the election as a media event and
nudge us toward a more sustainable future. After all, elections, much like design, are all
about what’s next. Co-design, when done well, negates the idea of one master designer—
or one autocratic leader—making every decision about what “we” need. Instead, co-design
asks that those constituents affected by decisions take part in the process. In the marketplace, co-design demands that consumers, or end-users, become active stakeholders in
what gets made. In the context of the electoral process, co-design would mean that all
voters could become more involved through questioning and suggesting ideas. Co-design,
led by voters, would mean that we become less beholden to the current model where we all
too often act as mindless receptacles of the well-produced election spectacle.
The electoral process should be redesigned to be more participatory, and less focused
on campaigns financed by the few. It is all too clear that there is a direct link between funding
a campaign and political access. This correlation privileges small numbers of voters and further
disenfranchises the majority of the voting public. Supreme Court decisions, such as the
2010 Citizens United case, have only furthered the problematic correlation between money
and politics. Money can now flow freely into campaigns in a way that enables the loop of
the media spectacle to repeat endlessly, further removing voters from campaigns that seem
to be so distant from their actual lives. This is why so many Americans felt the “Bern” so
strongly in our current election cycle, as Sanders vociferously argued that money corrupts
the system in terms of who has meaningful entrée into the political process. And yet, it
could be argued that Sanders, like Clinton and Trump, was quite adept at using the spectacle
of the political process to his own advantage, even though his well-polished image is much
more beholden to a seemingly grassroots sensibility.
Besides the taint of campaign money, there is also a rising tide of political machinations
that have attempted to disenfranchise segments of the population based on racial gerrymandering and spurious claims of “voter fraud” that require unfair amounts of “evidence”
from the voter to cast his or her vote. This exclusion of votes, which is linked to nefarious
design projects such as poll taxes and literacy tests, tied to a long history of American
racism, needs to come to an end.
Let’s get beyond exclusionary practices and design a form of voter participation that will
foster more access through venues, such as widely held open town halls (not organized
by the current party system), electronic voting, and less exclusive events where candidates
could meet with and talk to their constituents regardless of the size of a check. These tactics
would enfranchise more voices. American voters would feel less distant from what has
become a system corrupted by money, favoritism, and other forms of privilege.
Beyond who wins in November, I see the presidential contest in 2016 as a clarion call
for the way in which co-design, led by voters and not by a select few with deep pockets,
could enable a new civil society, where conversations about our futures lead us beyond
our current obsession with simply watching and acting like disenfranchised recipients of
screen-based stimuli. We need to redesign our political process and move away from our
apolitical obsession with sanctioning politics as a mere media event.
We must get beyond the autocratic model of design that defines
our current election cycle’s over-reliance on privileging the few at an
enormous cost to the many.
David Brody teaches at Parsons School of Design. His new book,
“Housekeeping by Design: Hotels and Labor,” will be published this
fall by the University of Chicago Press.
A modified form of what is sometimes referred to as co-design would move us
away from the spectacle of the election as a media event and nudge us toward
a more sustainable future. After all, elections, much like design, are all about what’s next.