Penn State Graphic Design faculty member Peter Lusch’s interest in civic engagement dates back to his childhood in the Michigan state capital of Lansing, where he observed political activities on the capital lawn. In order to encourage civic engagement among Penn State students, he has developed a mobile exhibition, Our Rights to Vote: Constitutional Amendments and Congressional Acts Since 1868, intended to help Penn State students register to vote and appreciate the process of voter legislation.
The exhibition, an extension of his M.F.A. show at Michigan State in 2012, examines nine pieces of federal legislation that provide suffrage and voter protections to U.S. citizens. It will be on display on three key dates: September 16, Constitution Day, at the Palmer Museum of Art Plaza; September 27, National Voter Registration Day, at the Palmer Museum of Art Plaza; and October 11, the last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania before the presidential election, at the HUB-Robeson Center Pollock Street Entrance.
“We are trying get people interested and hoping to get education out to the student population. Statistically, this age group has many inactive voters, and we want to make sure that they vote,” said Lusch.
Lusch cites a lack of awareness and confusion about how and where students can register to vote as reasons for students not voting. He hopes to change that by providing tools and information to help students get involved.
“By showing these nine pieces of legislation about voting, I’m trying to beg the question of ‘Why are we taking it for granted when there are ongoing and continuous struggles for people to vote?’ Don’t take this lightly because it can be taken away.”
According to Lusch, each individual vote, even in a big presidential election, does matter. “If everybody says that their vote doesn’t count, and nobody votes, we would have a fundamental problem because then we wouldn’t have a democracy. There is that symbolic view of ‘Yes, it counts. I voted for this person, and it went into this pool.’ It is also about how you feel connected to the voting process – the act of voting. In some sense, it is so big and vast that it may seem like you don’t have a voice, but you do have a voice.”
Visitors to the exhibition will learn how federal implementation and state-level interpretation of these laws have created a sequence of restrictions and expansions to the privilege of voting, including the amendments giving black men, women, and 18-year-olds the right to vote.
He recalls being excited about his first opportunity to vote, in the 1996 presidential election. “What motivated me was the novelty of it. I was allowed to do this now, and it was a privilege to acquire. It wasn’t lost on me. I grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and there is something in the air in a state capital that allows a form of public interaction with government. You go to the capital lawn for civic engagement the same way you can on a university campus. Think of Old Main,” he said.
Lusch wants to involve student groups on campus and possibly take his exhibition to other venues before the November elections to help drive turnout and share knowledge. Crediting Penn State students with an active voice on campus and their ability to mobilize quickly through social media to effect change, he hopes that his exhibition will help engage them in a dialogue with democracy.
In conjunction with the exhibition and registration drive, Lusch will give a lecture on the role of graphic design in elections and politics in the Palmer Lipcon Auditorium at the Palmer Museum of Art on November 2 at 1:00 p.m. The lecture is free and open to the public. Both the lecture and exhibition are sponsored by the Borland Project Space.
To volunteer to help with voter registration at any of the events, visit the signup sheet: http://signup.com/go/pvCaj8