Food-Court Democracy

This election season, voting booths move to the shopping mall.

Photo of early voters at the Galleria at Sunset Mall, in Henderson, Nevada, by Isaac Brekken for the New York Times. Read the associated story.

In my recent survey of high-design malls, I didn’t get a chance to touch on an interesting feature in the American shopping landscape: the migration of municipal functions to private shopping centers. It’s becoming increasingly common to find a local DMV branch at the mall—and this election season, many counties have even opened polling places at shopping malls.

Undoubtedly, this makes voting (and getting your driver’s license renewed) more convenient for a lot of people, so it seems like a positive trend. But there are some discomfiting drawbacks to holding elections in a privately owned commercial building. A story in yesterday’s Independent Weekly details a few of the problems cropping up in North Carolina, which is experimenting with mall voting for the first time.
Conspicuously absent from the mall voting experience were political candidates, their supporters and party volunteers, who normally greet voters and hand out campaign literature. Security officers have ousted politicians and their supporters attempting to campaign, including one who was warned that his car would be towed. Confusion surrounding mall voting rules has allegedly prompted at least one election worker to enforce policies that contradict election law. Outcry over the policy prompted picketing and a boycott effort by critics who say it violates the First Amendment.
Maybe this isn’t quite as insidious as the upstate New York mall where a man was arrested for refusing to take off a “Give Peace a Chance” T-shirt, but it’s certainly not an encouraging addition to an election process already rife with problems. Read the entire Independent story here.

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