A New Election Day Voter Experience

With all the millions of dollars invested by parties and campaigns leading up to the election, it’s shocking that the Election Day experience is devoid of experience design for what voters must go through. In short, the Election Day experience for voters just outside the polling place is terrible.

It’s something I’ve always found fascinating. Voters show up to the polls and see people they may/may not know holding signs they may/may not have seen before with names of people they don’t know anything about. I’ve talked about the polling place experience as “visual chaos.”

This is the “visual chaos” paradigm I’m referring to.
Kate Brindley Photography www.katebrindleyphotography.com

The prevailing opinion as to why campaigns and parties make and display totems (the multiple signs stacked on top of each other on a wooden post) is traditionally because:

  1. It’s widely accepted that having support at the polls will influence a voter to vote for whoever is on the sign the supporter is holding. It follows the logic of making signs and putting them all over the place, and it’s a last-minute attempt to sway a voter into voting for that individual or set of individuals.
  2. If you stack two or three signs on top of each other, you will put candidates who are running for lesser known positions (i.e., “down ballot candidates”) with other more high profile candidates to associate them with the same approach to governing. It’s thought that this can “elevate” that candidate’s profile and garner them more votes.

There are many major challenges with this thinking:

  1. You’re not taking into account anything about the voter (what kind of day they’re having, where their headspace is at). You are simply asking them to perform something.
  2. It assumes that many voters respond positively to these signs, when we have seen that most voters go out of their way to avoid the locations where people and signs are.
  3. Many voters see supporters and those involved in political support as “extreme.”
  4. You are assuming that the voter has any clue who any of the people are on your totem. If it’s a presidential year, or a mayoral race, they may know the top people on the ballot, but the farther you go down the ballot, the more unknown people are.
  5. Voting is a private matter between the voter and the vote. Asking for votes the day of the election can be seen as an extreme turnoff or a harassment tactic, especially to those who want to maintain their privacy.

These emotional and rational reasons are important to take into consideration for all of us as we struggle to convince Americans to stay engaged in our political system. We need the polls to be welcoming, less frenzied, and pleasant. We need to project a relaxed environment for all voters as they make some pretty important decisions for our towns, cities, states and federal governments.

In some towns, they were handing out water bottles to those people who were waiting in line for hours to vote. While that seems like a nice thing to do, it can also be seen as an attempt to “buy” a vote. What experience should political campaigns and parties be striving to create a successful outcome? Here are five tips:

Drop ALL the attacks and smears.
If a campaign is still attacking their opponent on the day of the Election and is bringing signs out to do so, the message you send to many voters is that you don’t care about what they’re going through that particular day. You need to be able to shift your attention away from grievance politics and focus on the time voters are taking out of their day to show up at the polls.

Thank voters for their time and try to establish a small personal connection.
While I’ve seen many people in polling places thank others for coming out, many of the folks who hold signs remain silent and let their yard sign totems do the talking. I’ve also noticed that when someone is LEAVING the polls, most responses shift from thanking voters to “So who did you vote for?” leaving a voter in what could be an awkward position for them. Find ways to focus on thanking them. They may even vote for your person next time because of the way you made them feel.

Re-think why your supporters are out there and how they can help you.
I’m going to ask every candidate who’s in charge of a campaign: does having a sign out there with your name on it really add to your voting day totals? Voters come in knowing who they’re going to vote for at the very top of the ballot. I always laugh when I see people with Trump or Biden signs out there at the polls (as if that will dramatically impact the amount of votes they were going to get that day). Having a supporter out there should be a reflection of who you are and who you want to be. What can you do to arm them with the training and tools that will leave a lasting impression on a voter? Supporters should be removing the chaos from the voter AND simplifying things for them.

Leaders need to lead. Support your lesser known candidates and teams.
This is probably the most important thing to note: Up to 40% of voters don’t know who their party’s down ballot candidates are (i.e., the candidates running for lesser known positions who are being supported by their parties). The entire system of politics gravitates towards the more powerful positions, and leaves the lesser positions within town and municipal government with less resources and money. If your campaign team simply focuses on getting the top position filled and none of your team members (for example, a laser focus on Mayor and none on your Board of Aldermen), even if you fill the top position, you won’t be able to assert any change once that person gets elected.

What could a new experience look like?

In Nashua, I’m experimenting with a brand new design experience at the polls, taking all of the removing the totems where we can and finding new types of messaging for our voters. I created a “triplicate” last election that looked like this:

These three signs, each 2′ x 5′, come together to form a sign that voters may be interested in interacting with. Plus it’s always great to make a sign with my beautiful wife on it.

Two important things to mention about this design: first, it had a huge map of the ward which allowed people to say “hey, that’s where I live!” and point to a section of the sign. Then it associated a really important message with the three candidates (who were in lesser known positions, but very important state legislators): “Thank you for voting.” The voters were drawn in by the design of the sign, then they would smile based on the message, which was VERY different from the typical “VOTE FOR OUR CANDIDATE” messaging that you see prevalent everywhere.

That was great for these three people (who subsequently won their elections and got more votes than people farther up the ballot), but what about the rest of the people running? The back of each was designed to give a bit more information about who was part of the larger team:

Signs for the Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in Nashua (2022)

Did everyone on this ballot get elected? No(though most did). We have a Republican governor who has a great deal of cross-appeal in New Hampshire. Sometimes, it’s the lasting impression you have on people that help you carry a message to win another day. It was a great way to give voters a personal touch on the day of the election, making it more welcoming for them and easier for candidates to connect. I’m proud to say that these signs addressed all of the five points above, welcomed voters into our polling places, and thanked them for the time they spent there, even if they didn’t vote the way we wanted them to.

I’m making modifications to signs for the upcoming municipal elections (version 2.0), and I will keep everyone posted!

Worlds Toughest Mudder 2017: One last time.

To the World’s Toughest Community.  The greatest feeling in the world is when you are physically and emotionally drained, and you still feel like you got more than you gave. Thank you.

No offense to Atkins and Albon, but THIS is the team that won WTM this year.
No offense to Atkins and Albon, but THIS is the team that won WTM this year.

“Like the scripture says:
Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree,
And no one shall make them afraid.
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree.
A moment alone in the shade,
At home in this nation we’ve made.
One last time.” – George Washington, Hamilton: The Musical

In May this year, my crazy workout and run exploits finally caught up with me, along with years of sitting at computers with bad posture. I became partially paralyzed while enduring a pain I had never thought imaginable.   To fix the issue, I needed emergency surgery to fuse two bones in my neck and remove a disc. Not pretty, but the surgery went relatively smooth due to my kickass surgeon. Cassie Harris flew in to help me through it. Ehsan Farkondeh, Erik Panu, Brianne Kuchera and Adam Nagle (my original Pit Crew person and best friend since 2012)  were also present while Heather Heaton and Jared Quance both offered their amazing expertise through a distance.  I had an entire community of support to help put me back together.

Life, and the setbacks associated with it, will always be a reason to laugh at yourself.
Life, and the setbacks associated with it, will always be a reason to laugh at yourself.

The next two months were fraught with setbacks, things I never shared with anyone. The pain would come back at very inopportune times while in rehab. I don’t know how many people have experienced nerve pain, but if you haven’t, please keep it that way. Crying in my bed at night seemed completely acceptable. And I developed serious headaches.

Eventually, I made adjustments to my diet and started losing weight at an accelerated rate. My muscles around the neck and back became stronger, and were able to support all of the rehab I was doing. It was doubly important for me to get stronger because Rocky Horror was around the corner.  A dozen setbacks from nerve pain led to 13 steps forward in my progress. Eventually, with the help of a focused personal trainer, CJ Nguyen, and waking up at 3:45 every morning to slowly rehab, I was able to declare myself completely ready for Rocky Horror. And Worlds Toughest Mudder.

Rocky Horror was an amazing success. Worlds? It was a partial victory.  Life wasn’t going to let me out of 2016 without my declaration of one final emotional “whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.” Don’t get me wrong: goals were reached all over the place (a really fun Thursday night event, over $100,000 raised by our beautiful fundraising team and 65 miles, a new PR). Most importantly: My spine wasn’t screaming anymore and my body wasn’t shit-tacular. But my headaches were not going away.

Fast forward. Two weeks after World’s Toughest Mudder, I went to New York City to see what the fuss was all about with Hamilton.  It just so happened to be immediately following the show Mike Pence attended.  It took me about two songs to really start to warm up to it, as it felt more like a revue than an actual musical.

While I gradually increased my love for the show throughout its progression, “One Last Time” was the point in which I fell for Hamilton. The song speaks to George Washington’s final decision to step away from the Office, which, in historical context, set a precedence for future presidents (oooo alliteration!) to step down after limited amounts of terms.

The lyrics I posted at the top will never leave me. As they were sung from the lips of Nicholas Christopher (the actor who created the illusion he was actually George Washington), something started to click in my mind. The final realization came into being when Christopher sang the following line:

“History has its eyes on you.”

2012. 100% Complete Newbie Contender coming through.

History. Legacy. The words had never been important to me. My job at work has always been focused on innovation, and I’ve always left it up to “historians” to write the life I’ve lived.

I’m ready to bookend my WTM history. And I’m ready to say good bye.

Forgetting about the bastardization of Alexander Hamilton’s actual history in the musical for a second, I would like to at least write down my 5 favorite moments at Worlds Toughest Mudder, one from each year:

The first pair of Worlds Toughest Mudder socks ever created.
The first pair of Worlds Toughest Mudder socks ever created.

2012. Absolutely freezing at 12AM, I duck into a med tent (as they used to be on course those days).  “Anyone have anything hot?” I ask as I pass some folks who are struggling under emergency blankets. The medic says “well, we have some freshly boiled soup!” “Thanks,” I said as I grab the cup and pour it on my foot. The look on her face was absolutely priceless. “That was just boiling less than 60 seconds ago,” she said, eyes wide open.  I look down at my foot, look back at her, shrug, and run out.

2013. Running at 2AM, I am going at a decent pace, in the middle of my 8th lap, right before Leap of Faith.  I hear a set of footsteps coming up right behind me, to which I shout out “Great job, man.” Passing me is Deanna Blegg, hauling ass and smoking my pace with ease.  “Thanks,” she said without looking back. “And it’s ‘Lady!'”

This was the first Orphan Tent purchase made in 2014. Obviously, it was fueled by logical and sound racing practices.
This was the first Orphan Tent purchase made. Obviously, it was fueled by logical and sound racing practices from the beginning.

2014. Ken Jacobus, the godfather of the Community, had set up his tent next to our first Orphan Tent. When he was taking a break from laps, he was helping us as people came through. Around 11PM, I started to leave for my next lap, noticing that the winds were really picking up. Before I left Tent City, the winds had swelled to hurricane speeds, so I went back to check on the Orphan Tent to make sure that everything was okay.  When I got back, I will never forget seeing Ken holding down our canopy and my orange VW Tent, which was massive.  “GOOOOOOO!!! JUST GOOOOO!!!!” he yells. It was a scene from a movie; better than Swingers at 4am.

2014 Honorable Mention. My final lap. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t pass on it and decided to run it.

2015. The entire event was a much different one, getting the privilege to run with Team Four Eyes(check them out on CBS Sports!). Late into the evening, we were all exceptionally tired.  Kara, our amazing Pit Crew said to us that we weren’t allowed to have alcohol till after the event was over.  Kc Hereth, one of our esteemed team members blurts out “DON’T TELL ME… WHAT TO DO WITH MAH LIFE!!!!”  While this was one of those moments where you had to be there, it was probably the funniest moment in my WTM history.

Sam and Karen, my extended family.
Sam and Karen, my extended family.

2016. Crossing the finish line and seeing Samantha and Karen Mahan smiling. I remembered what it was like to attend Carter’s funeral in 2014, Samantha’s son who passed away 21 months into his life.  Seeing her smile triggered my emotions to flood completely out of my soul, a release I’ve needed for years.  This release was the beginning of clearing my head, which has led to this eventual decision to say goodbye.

Absolutely amazing memories. They allow me to write my final chapter with a smile as I recite my personal WTM lifetime statistics, if for no other reason than to remind my 60-year-old self what I actually did:

  1. $150,000 money personally raised in three years for Wounded Warrior and St. Baldrick’s with the help of some incredible donors.
  2. Organized a team of fundracers who raised over $125,000 in 2016.
  3. Created deeply personal relationships.
  4. 3 Thursday night dinners
  5. Made it possible for 23 people to have experiences at Worlds Toughest Mudder.
  6. Co-created and co-funded the Orphan Tent with Melissa Dugan.
  7. Shared way too many laughs with Keith Allen… but not nearly enough.
  8. I suppose 245 lifetime miles should be on this list.

Yeah, I’ll miss WTM. But I kinda lead a very unique life.

And now, with one year left, I am setting my 2017 goals upfront, and the actual reason why I’m writing this so early. There is lots of work to do, and I will need the Community’s help to do it:

  1. There was a time when TMHQ gave an award to the person who raised the most money for charity.  None of us who actually raise money ever care about the accolades.  But TMHQ needs to reevaluate their removal of this special award and make it important again.  There are lots of donors who are completely in awe when I tell them about the event, and the 24 hour experience has motivated some of them to change their lives.  This event offers an incredible opportunity for people to fundraise and inspire others, and recognizing fundraisers furthers TMHQ’s mission of recognizing leaders.  In my opinion, fundraising is tougher than training for this event. #itsAllBeenFundraising
  2. The establishment of a Tough Mudder Hall of Fame is something I will continue to fight for. This isn’t something necessarily related to WTM.  The Friday night dinner that TMHQ puts on should be the TMHQ Hall of Fame induction event. And I think our first nominee should be Jim Campbell.
  3. I want one chance to represent my country at Worlds by singing the National Anthem.
  4. Less organizing and more spending time with the community on Thursday, Friday, and event leadup.
  5. 75 miles. What the hell, let’s go out with a bang.

I’ll never be too far away from WTM as a concept, but my days of organizing events and training specifically for WTM are coming to a close after 2017.  Thank you, WTM Community. I am blessed to always be a part of you.

Running towards my own vine and fig tree.
A way to live.