How do you get Arizona voters to stick around and cast votes for the bottom of a very long ballot? That was the challenge put to a group of graduate students in Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre. They were one of four teams commissioned by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service to produce videos highlighting important aspects of the upcoming election.
ASU students Ricky Araiza, Malena Grosz, Vickie Hall and Chris Weise were asked to promote the final part of the ballot: retaining or rejecting Superior Court judges, also known as the merit selection process.
“We needed to get people aware of this and try to get them to finish the ballot,” said Weise. “So we had a unique challenge initially."
More like an impossible challenge. More than 2 million Arizonans cast ballots in the last presidential election in 2012. Guess how many stuck around to the end of the ballot? Only 7 percent of voters bothered to mark whether to retain the final appellate court judge on the ballot.
"Voters really have no idea how we end up with the judges that we get or the fact that we're one of the very few states that have appointed judges that then have to be elected to keep their seats, " said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center.
Explaining the merit selection process in a short video is difficult enough. But doing so in an entertaining way? It was a challenge that Weise says his team embraced.
“We all had various ideas and tried to incorporate as many as possible,” Weise said. “One person thought puppets would be fun. I thought of the idea of using a game show.”
They ended up using popsicle-stick puppets for characters and the TV show “The Voice” as the platform.
“We really were focused on the idea of the citizens judging judges, right?” recalled Weise. “And then we just thought about the format of 'The Voice.' And we thought that would work.”
For the uninitiated, "The Voice" features aspiring singers being critiqued and coached by established music stars. Hosted by TV personality Carson Daly, viewers vote to eliminate contestants until a winner is declared at the end of the season.
The opening sequence of the student-produced video features a clever play on the show’s logo. Instead of a hand holding a microphone flashing a “V” or victory sign, the hand clutches a gavel and the words “of Justice” are added under the show's title creating “The Voice of Justice.”
Three other student teams produced videos highlighting different aspects of the election. All took a different approach but used humor to make what could be dry topics come to life.
One titled “Zeeta’s Guide the AZ Corporation Commission” plays off the popular use of the iPhone voice command feature “Siri.” In this video skit, "Zeeta" comes to life and walks a hapless young person through his struggles losing electricity and water. In the process, the video highlights the work of the Corporation Commission and provides information on the five candidates running in the general election.
"If that's all they take away from their video, that's a huge accomplishment,” said Olivas. “Because voters are not aware of this body, and they're not aware that this year three out of those five seats are going to be elected."
What is perhaps the most passionate explanation ever of an Arizona ballot proposition is the work of another group of ASU students. They use a telenovela to bring Proposition 206 to life. Titled “All my Wages,” the video spoofs the popular Spanish-language soap opera complete with sappy dramatic scenes and music. The lovelorn characters recite actual language from the proposition, what a “yes” or “no” vote means and what supporters and opponents are saying about it. It ends with the following words on the screen: “This issue doesn’t need drama. ... It needs voters.”
“And so it closes with that message that voters just need to pay attention and inform themselves and participate in this decision that will have a major impact on our economy," Olivas said.
A final student-produced video examines Proposition 205, which would allow for the recreational use of marijuana and a sales tax on marijuana sales. The students use small plastic dinosaurs, visual props and a heavy dose of humor to explain the proposition and arguments for and against.
"Their challenge was to be fair to both sides because it seemed like the preponderance if not all of them were on one side of that issue,” Olivas said. “But I really feel looking at it that they did a very good job at representing both sides well and comprehensively. And they did it in a way that was funny and attention-grabbing and hopefully will be something that people share online.”
Two of the student-produced videos were played before audiences attending debates on Proposition 205 and Proposition 206, respectively. The events were co-sponsored by the Pastor Center. The videos can also be found online on YouTube.